Thursday 1 October 2015

Reviewed: Silence is Goldfish by Annabel Pitcher

Silence is Goldfish was published by Orion Children's Books on October 1, 2015.

Annabel Pitcher is an author whose books have been recommended to me several times, so I thought her latest novel, the intriguingly named Silence is Goldfish, would be a good place to start. I have to admit, this one was a little strange. Sometimes I couldn’t grasp the reason why it was told in such a strange way. Other times it made sense. Basically, my feelings on the concept of this story changed a lot throughout but I did really enjoy the book. The pacing and flow of the writing was quick and easy and though there were well over 400 pages, I started and finished reading the book over the course of one afternoon. I found Silence is Goldfish to be quirky, entertaining with a mixture of sadness and humour that pretty much sums up the mindset of a teenager trying to find their place in the world. I’ll definitely be looking out for more books from this author in the future.

Tess begins this story as the typical kind-of nerdy teenage girl. She’s different to most of the kids in her year but unlike her friend Isabel, doesn’t have the confidence within herself to be okay with standing out. Instead, she tries her best to fade into the background and fit in, like she thinks her family wants for her. Shortly after the book starts, Tess reads a document on her dad’s computer, a short blog post he has written which unveils a huge secret that devastates Tess. Her reaction is individual, to say the least. Not knowing what to say, Tess stops talking. Altogether. Nobody understands why – not her parents, Isabel, her teachers – but they soon realise that Tess isn’t about to start talking any day soon.

Tess is an introvert. I connected with her from the beginning, I guess maybe because I could partly relate to the time I spent in school cut off from most other people, but enjoying my own company. We really get to see her character change and develop throughout this book and there were moments when I wasn’t so keen on the choices she was making and times when I found myself really rooting for her, and willing her to break her silence. The reactions Tess had to everything she experienced in this book turned Silence is Goldfish into a really thought-provoking story. I liked that Annabel always wrote in a style that left me thinking and constantly considering what I had just read. I’m not sure if I was meant to have mixed feelings on Tess but I know I did. Early on in the book, when Tess is still talking, we meet Isabel and I loved the way they spoke with each other. Isabel was just my kind of person. I adored her character, how she was out there and not afraid to be different, or at least she didn’t show it. She felt comfortable in her own skin and that was so buoying to see from a girl of her age. I really bought into this great friendship Isabel had with Tess which meant that I then found it a bit sad that Tess hadn’t told her parents about Isabel. She wasn’t sure what her dad would make of her friend and so, almost ashamed, she said she’d been spending time with a girl called Anna instead (who incidentally, meanly, found the whole idea of Tess disgusting). Her parents didn’t even know Isabel existed and I found that disheartening, and felt sorry for Isabel, because in my opinion, Tess should have been proud to have a friend like Isabel who was caring, considerate, accepting and so true to herself.

Tess, being a bit overweight and different, is bullied, mainly by a group of three girls – the aforementioned Anna being one of them. Standing up to bullies is difficult to start with but when you’re not talking, it’s virtually impossible. The bullying at school seemed to play out in a quite typical way. I’m not saying it wasn’t believable, I actually found the bullying scenes to be realistic and I felt for Tess, though the attitudes of the girls bullying her kind of had a Mean Girls feel to them which was bit overdone. The social media aspect to the bullying of Tess struck me the most because it felt more real and current and a theme that fiction should now be exploring more and more because bullying is now made so much easier in the way that you don’t even have to be bold enough to say things to someone’s face. Bullies can be anonymous, as Tess discovered here, and in a way that makes things even worse.

I wasn’t sure how this story would work once Tess stopped talking. How would we get to know Tess if we never heard a thing from her? That never became an issue because through the use of a goldfish – sort of – Tess finds her voice and though she isn’t talking to other people, we get to see her thoughts in the same manner. It’s a bit hard to explain, makes more sense when you’re reading it, but I’m still not sure what I actually thought of the way this was told. It was unusual and there were times when I stopped to think, what am I reading?, yet at the same time I was fascinated, too. Either way, Tess’ overall silence was moving and I sympathised with her whilst wanting her to find her voice. Every time I thought that her approach was a bit more childlike than her age suggested, I reminded myself of how vulnerable she must have been feeling and how it’s hard to understand mental health and all the things building up inside someone’s head which lead up to actions you may not ever properly understand. Because Tess was, in pretty much every other way, that average teenager. Quite na├»ve, easily influenced, changeable, looking out for herself first and foremost, rash, a bit frustrating and frustrated. To me she wasn’t particularly likeable nor was she dislikeable – simply a character I really wanted to get to know.

As I was getting closer to finishing Silence is Goldfish, I could tell I wasn’t going to be completely satisfied with the ending because pages were running out and nothing was being resolved. I would have liked an extended ending – it sort of felt like, something huge was made out of the secret Tess discovered at the beginning and very little happened to try and fix things at the end. In fact, if Tess hadn’t turned mute then things could have been made a bit better with just a little communication so really I felt like the ending needed to be made a bit more fulfilling. There were strands to the story I would have liked to learn more about at the end, people I wanted to hear more about. But at the same time, when I think about this book now it’s over, I can’t forget how much I truly enjoyed it. Aspects to Silence is Goldfish were very different to anything I’ve read before. Characters were strong and fleshed out. The voice (or lack of voice, I suppose) was fresh and compelling. The themes Annabel explored were touching and strikingly written. I was with Tess all the way as she poignantly discovers that people aren’t who they seem and as she heartbreakingly reaches out for that feeling of belonging. Though I have so much to say about Silence is Goldfish, this is a book so difficult to talk about. I do believe it is well worth a read.

An unusual yet highly compelling tale of a teenager - silent - rooting through a host of lies trying to find her place in the world

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