Bluefish by Pat Schmatz (YA)

Bluefish

Bluefish

Pat Schmatz (Young Adult Fiction)

“One fish, two fish, red fish, blue fish.”  Might as well be, “One fish, two fish, Travis is a stupid fish.”  At least that’s what they all say…well, what one person says, but he is a VERY influential person.  Travis Roberts is the new kid in the eighth grade.  The only thing keeping him in school was his dog, Rosco, and now that he’s gone, what’s the point?  He’ll always be stupid.  He’ll always be a bluefish.  But then Travis meets Vida (her public calls her “Velveeta”) and Bradley Whistler (who is THE smartest kid EVER) and Mr. McQueen, his reading teacher.  Up until this point, everything that Travis cared about was gone.  Maybe now he has a reason to begin caring again…even if he is just a bluefish.

Pat Schmatz serves up an awkwardly accurate and often humorous portrayal of adolescence through three flawed and endearing misfits—all longing to fit in and wanting to be a part of something bigger than themselves.  Our three protagonists are no longer a child and not quite an adult, and Bluefish shows us the mask each wears to cover up their insecurities and shortcomings.  From the brainiac to the class clown to the strong, silent type, Schmatz successfully encapsulates the complicated world of teenagers and the tangled and convoluted roadmap that directs their everyday lives and dictates their emotions.

Bluefish is more than a story of friendship and middle school survival, it’s a story of how one person has the power to change the very course of our life:  a kid who finds and hands back your stolen shoe; a girl who invites you to sit with her at lunch; or a teacher who volunteers his or her time to tutor you before school.  Thank you, Ms. Schmatz, for reminding us of the importance of not giving up on our friends, and—more importantly—not giving up on ourselves.  You have shown us that being a bluefish really isn’t so bad and can actually be a rather remarkable thing after all.

Rating: 5/5

*Book cover image attributed to www.barnesandnoble.com

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The Wishing Trees by John Shors

The Wishing Trees

The Wishing Trees  

John Shors (Adult Fiction)

Kate McCray died ten months ago, but her absence remains as fresh and painful for her husband, Ian, and their ten-year-old daughter, Mattie as the day she slipped away from them.  Upon her death, Kate leaves a letter for Ian expressing her dying wish: “Be happy.  Learn to laugh again.  To joke.  To wrestle together like you once did.  Learn to be free again.”  To achieve these things, Kate wants Ian to take Mattie on the trip the two of them intended to make to celebrate their fifteenth anniversary.  A trip across Asia that would allow Mattie to experience what her parents once shared in so many diverse and wondrous countries: Japan, Nepal, Thailand, India, Hong Kong, and Vietnam.  But can Ian do it?  Can he revisit a past full of memories of his wife in order to forge a future without her?

John Shors delivers a touching and bittersweet story of a husband and daughter embarking on a journey of self-discovery, healing, and enlightenment.  Although deceased, Kate remains a prominent presence and central figure throughout the story.  She has left handwritten notes inside twelve film canisters—six each for Ian and Mattie—which are to be opened upon the pair’s arrival in each country.  Kate’s words of love and encouragement are a constant reminder of the tender and altruistic person so tragically torn from our main characters.  Her careful planning of this trip, despite her weakened state, and her desire for her family to move on without her is heartbreaking in its selflessness and hopeful in its intent.  What’s most striking is Kate’s constant encouragement for her loved ones to make a positive difference in the world.  In one of her letters to Mattie, Kate writes of Buddha, “Do you know what Buddha says about happiness?  He said, ‘Thousands of candles can be lighted from a single candle, and the life of the candle will not be shortened.  Happiness never decreases by being shared.’”  With each canister that is opened and with each note that is read, we can easily understand how indomitable a task it is for Ian and Mattie to emotionally recover from their loss.

The Wishing Trees is a beautifully written love letter to anyone who has ever lost a love and hungers for a sign—any sign—that they’re still with us.  That they still see us.  That they still remember us.   It’s also a story about the power of kindness and the extraordinary healing powers in doing good.  Numerous books have been written on research connecting helping others to health benefits or, simply stated, doing good is good for you.  Perhaps Kate knew this all the time or perhaps she remembered an Indian saying during her travels, “When you were born, you cried and the world rejoiced.  Live your life so that when you die, the world cries and you rejoice.”

Rating: 4/5

*Book cover image attributed to www.amazon.com

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