Review: Fish Girl

Posted on May 17, 2017

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Fish Girl
Written by Donna Jo Napoli & David Wiesner
Illustrated by David Wiesner
Clarion Books
March 2017
192 pages

Napoli and Wiesner team up for this graphic novel, which is a modern-day slant on Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Little Mermaid.” Fish Girl is the main attraction at Ocean Wonders. Not just any boardwalk aquarium, this is an old 3-story seaside building converted into a series of connecting fish tanks. Fish Girl has a tail like a mermaid and she doesn’t speak. Her best friend is Octopus who is both companion and bodyguard. Neptune (not his real name) is the aquarium’s owner, as well as master-of-ceremonies and tour guide. He has convinced Fish Girl that she is not human and therefore can’t survive in the outside world. He gives her two jobs. One is to collect all the coins that visitors drop into the tanks. The other is to stay out of sight just enough to tease the visitors. She lives the life of a watery spirit until one day a curious girl named Livia pursues her until she finds her. Livia returns often and Fish Girl gradually shows herself more often. Livia tells her all about her life and names her Mira. Napoli and Wiesner masterfully contrast Livia’s flaky personality with Mira’s naiveté. As their unusual friendship develops, Mira’s self-awareness expands and she begins to see through Neptune’s aqueous shield to the ugly truth that she is a human slave for his profit. Wiesner’s rich watercolors vividly portray the beauty and complexity of Mira’s underwater prison. And it is only through his illustrations that we fully understand the role of Octopus. Fish Girl is a haunting tale about human bondage that is both sensitive and topical in today’s world.

Copyright (c) 2017 by Peggy Tibbetts

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