Having been reading YA novels for some time now, it has become increasingly frustrating that there are only a handful of original stories out there, and then a slew of followers who are looking to copy the latest fad. The current crop of YA novels seems to be stuck in this cycle of repetition, and readers are beginning to feel burnout on dystopian novels, the supernatural, magic, kids will illnesses, and first love stories. While there are still a ton of good books that fit into these categories, enough it enough for a little bit. There has to be something else out there, something that is wholesome, and fun, and without the increasing amounts of sex, violence, and swearing that can be found in the pages of a YA novel now.
Fish in a Tree may be as nearly flawless a Young Adult book as I have read in a while.
It should be stated right off the bat, that Fish in a Tree is a true Young Adult book, meant for a younger group of readers. Our heroine is in the sixth grade, a far cry from our typical protagonists who are in high school and doing the things that high school kids do. Ally, our central character here, is still young, and still brings with her much of the innocence and frustration of being that age. While Fish in a Tree is geared for the younger readers out there, it can easily still be enjoyed by “older” YA readers as well.
The story focuses on young Ally, a troublesome student in class, since she spends most of her time fearing having to read and write, as she severely struggles with both. Once her teacher leaves the school for maternity leave, the new teacher, Mr. Daniels, becomes quite interested in her and the way that she learns. From here we are provided with a heartfelt tale of a teacher learning about his students, and helping them learn to the best of their abilities, regardless of what difficulties they may have.
This is a story that is hopeful, and not filled with any type of doom and gloom. It is inspirational, and provides us with a great insight into the struggles that Ally feels before she can understand her learning differences, and that she is not dumb, just that her brain works a little differently from the other kids. We see her rising confidence, and understand what an impact it can be on a child to be so far behind the others in his or her classroom. Author Lynda Mullaly Hunt does a fantastic job of describing Ally’s plight, and how each and every day is a struggle, and how there were too many times when it seemed that all hope was lost in her attempt to succeed in school. It is quite heartbreaking to begin with, as we can understand the difficulties that she is going through, if only she would acknowledge them.
Ally takes abuse from her classmates, especially the vile Shay and Jessica, for all of her shortcomings. But as she grows in confidence, and is built up by Mr. Daniels, Ally becomes not only a kid who is learning to read, but a better person as well. She, and her motley group of friends (the sassy Keisha and the brilliant and awkward Albert), are forced to deal with, and stand up to abusive classmates, realize who they are becoming as young people, and thrive in the new world of learning that Mr. Daniels has created for them.
Honestly, it was refreshing to read about a teacher that cares in Fish in a Tree. Teachers are easily painted villains in any number of teen stories, but it was nice to see a tale in which they actually help the hero by caring about them, and making sacrifices for them. Too many people forget that there are many teachers out there who will sacrifice their own time to help out students when they need it, even if it is not actually required of their jobs, or even if they get little to no recognition for it. Mr. Daniels is a terrific example of the caring educator, taking Ally under his wing, and dedicating himself to building her up to the levels where she belongs. The things he teaches her would not just help her get through Grade 6, but through life.
Fish in a Tree is a very good, quick read. It is a one sitting book (for adults), but won’t need any sequels, and won’t make you feel sad and defeated at the end. It is about the good things that still remain in schools, and paints a realistic picture of a student struggling with something that so many people take for granted as something that everybody can learn how to do.