Thursday, 31 January 2013

Bluefish - M's review

Bluefish by Pat Schmatz

"Sometimes life is hard to read"

Bluefish by Pat Schmatz
I loved this novel.

Yes, I blubbed. Not from page one but pretty much from page 145 onwards – and only a few short times before that. As an adult, I’ve recently realised that really good middle grade fiction can do that. Think about Once by Morris Gleitzman or A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness. But those two novels had plots whose themes set you up to cry before you even opened the book in a way that Bluefish does not.

Bluefish is a beautiful and poignant story about secrets and grieving. One of the secrets is very, very sad although the overall tone of the novel is quietly uplifting. The story is set in the USA and is about Travis, a young teen who lives with his alcoholic but loving grandfather, has recently moved to a new town, loves the outdoors, and is grieving over his beloved dog who has disappeared. To top it off, he’s just started at a new middle school (he’s about thirteen/fourteen) and has terrible problems with reading. Very quickly, sharp-talking Velveeta with all her coloured scarves comes onto the scene to help him through all this in much the same way that Summer does in RJ Palacio’s Wonder. But Velveeta is going through a period of grief herself.

The novel is told from two points-of-view that alternate with each chapter. First, we get Travis’ story unwinding through a third person narrator. Then we have Velveeta’s view told through her diary. This works really well in showing how friendships and family relationships are both hindered and formed by our perceptions of what other people are thinking or doing.

The three main teen characters – Travis, Velveeta and Bradley – they’re really great. I don’t often go in for the ‘let’s talk about the characters in a novel’ thing, but these ones, they’re kind of special in a very ordinary way. Travis is definitely my favourite – he’s also the central character and he’s supposed to be. But Velveeta and Bradley, they’re not far behind at all. I was quite sad to let the characters go at the end of this book. I’ll just have to deal with that grief. Pass the doughnuts please (that’s a joke, if you read Bluefish, you might get it).

While reading the novel, a slight drawback for me was the reference to the plot detail in a few other books, especially The Book Thief. That’s just my personal preference but retrospectively, it’s not something that detracts from my overall memory of Bluefish. Bluefish is likely to be on my list of favourite novels read in 2013.  

This novel includes themes of learning to read, alcoholism, grieving, and relationships.

By the way, the author’s name is pronounced ‘Pat Schmotz’).


Publication details: January 2013, Walker, London, paperback
This copy: received from the publisher

Bluefish was originally published in 2011 in the USA and has received numerous awards and commendations.

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