Donna Jo Napoli (writer) and David Wiesner (art)
Genre: Fantasy, Graphic Novel
Fish Girl has never known anything but the walls of her tank, which stretches through all three floors of a narrow house on the boardwalk of a seaside city. She’s kept there by Neptune, the God of the Ocean, and together they tease tourists with glimpses of a real mermaid.
Because Fish Girl actually is a mermaid.
Kept in the tank since she was a baby, Fish Girl has never known anything but Neptune’s stories, the coins she collects from the bottom of the tank, and the occasional views out the window at night. But when a curious young girl, Livia, catches Fish Girl off-guard and actually sees her (breaking all of Neptune’s rules at once), she realizes that people aren’t all evil like Neptune has told her. Livia even gives her a name: Mira, short for Miracle. And Mira starts to wonder if maybe, just maybe, she could have a human friend.
Who lives in tank at the edge of the sea—Mira the Fish Girl!
Bad Meg. Stop it. Nope. Not going there. You can do better than that.
Let’s try this again.
I like this book a lot. The art is absolutely stunning, but Wiesner is responsible for Jumanji and a few other childhood favorites of mine, so that shouldn’t surprise me. I love the magic of it, though. The scenes he draws are so perfect that often they manage to carry the story when the story itself gets slow. Some of the two-page spreads would make amazing desktop backgrounds or posters for classroom (or bedroom) walls.
The story itself works on multiple levels. I’m not sure how many younger middle-schoolers would understand the abduction/prisoner aspect of the book until Mira herself comes to that conclusion. It’s handled in a subtle way, and you can definitely see the whole Stockholm Syndrome aspect of Mira’s brain. I actually like the way the situation is handled. Abuse isn’t always punching or shouting; sometimes it’s withholding freedom and guilt trips. This lesson can take even adults a long time to learn. Because Napoli weaves it so well in her story, she makes it accessible for younger readers and provides the opportunity for a worthwhile discussion.
Fish Girl reminded me of The Little Mermaid, but not just because both of them feature, well, mermaids. Like the latter, Fish Girl is a fairy tale about a girl who wants to be more than she is. Both characters meet humans who challenge what they’ve been told their entire lives (ie. the incivility and cruelty of man), and both have father figures who try to keep them from experiencing more of the world. The stories both have magic and follow the “rule of three,” where certain kinds of events happen three times before the conclusion of the story. Fish Girl would be a perfect addition to any fairy tale unit in a language arts class, and it could also be a fun parallel project with The Little Mermaid, either the original Hans Christian Andersen story or the 1989 film.
What I like in particular about Mira is her self-reliance. She’s being kept prisoner by Neptune, yes, but she eventually decides to take steps herself to see if there’s anything more to the world than what she’s been told. The marine creatures, particularly the octopus, help her out when she requests it, but Mira is the one who makes the choice and takes her first few tentative steps into a larger world. Yay for a strong female character who proves that you can be better than what you always have been! And double yay for Livia, who bucks Neptune’s rules to help out another person in need, even at risk to herself!
So yeah, don’t skip this one. It’s definitely worth the read.
There are a lot of takeaways in this graphic novel fairy tale, and it could lead to some great discussions with readers of all ages.
- Fantasy lovers
- Kids at heart
- People who like books with depth below the surface
- Death: implied deaths
- Deceit: character tricks others into believing lies
- Emotional Abuse: character treats other like a possession
- Lying: characters lie to one another throughout
- Murder: implied murder
- Natural Disaster: fantasy-related natural disasters
- Other Illegal Activity: kidnapping, keeping a prisoner
- Good vs. Evil
- Growing Up
- Right vs. Wrong
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|Suspension of Disbelief||2|
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|Mechanics (spelling, grammar, punctuation)||2|