Bluefish by Pat Schmatz (YA)



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

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Swim to Me by Betsy Carter

Swim to Me

Swim to Me  

Betsy Carter (Adult Fiction)

Delores Walker can vividly recall the moment her mother dropped her into the shallow end of a lake.  She was just two, but she remembers the water’s temperature, plunging into its depths, and struggling to resurface.  It was heaven.  Twelve years later, she travels to Weeki Wachee Springs in Florida with her mother and father.  It’s 1970 and the mermaids of Weeki Wachee perform a tribute to Apollo 11.  They spin, twirl, dive, and glide, and Delores is fascinated and enthralled by these amazing creatures in the water.  Now at sixteen, she boards a Greyhound bus to Florida with a suitcase, a handful of silver dollars, a letter from Weeki Wachee, and a dream of being a mermaid.

This book is a loving tribute to those wonderfully glorious quirky, kitschy, and sometimes tacky roadside attractions that are a part of our rich and unique history and culture.  I totally immersed myself in this novel and loved reading about these aquatic darlings and their lives both in and out of the tank.  Carter ensures a well-rounded story by giving equal attention to Delores; her struggling and self-absorbed mother, Gail; and her absentee and apathetic father, Roy.  By offering readers a deeper insight into each of these characters separately, we gain a clearer understanding of their own personal thoughts, feelings, and struggles.

More than a loving wink and nod to days gone by, Swim to Me is a book about endings and new beginnings; about not being defined or confined by your present situation; and about taking what’s given to you and making the absolute most of it.

Rating: 4/5

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The Summer of the Swans by Betsy Byars (J)

The Summer of the Swans

Betsy Byars (Juvenile Fiction)

Fourteen-year old Sara Godfrey is having the worst summer of her life.  She hates her orange sneakers, she has the biggest feet in school, and don’t even mention her nose.  “I just feel like nothing,” she tells her sister.  But all that changes when her ten-year old brother, Charlie, goes missing.  Suddenly, Sara realizes what is truly important and what really matters.

Sara not only struggles with her own adolescent issues, but is dealing with an absentee father, meddling aunt, and a brother suffering from a mental impairment.  Byars accurately captures and conveys the angst, anger, and anxiety that most teens endure and provides readers with a realistic sense of Sara’s desperate desire to fit in, to be liked, and to be accepted.  More than just a coming-of-age book, The Summer of the Swans also provides an insight into Charlie’s mind and reveals his own desire for stability and security.  Byars shows us how love requires no words and perhaps is more accurately spoken not through the mouth, but by the heart.

Rating: 4/5