When I heard about a middle grade featuring a queer Vietnamese boy trying to figure out how to come out, I was smitten. Having read The Magic Fish I am even more in love. It is an absolutely charming and emotional middle grade graphic novel about family and stories. Keep reading this book review to find out exactly what I loved.
Real life isn’t a fairytale.
But Tiến still enjoys reading his favorite stories with his parents from the books he borrows from the local library. It’s hard enough trying to communicate with your parents as a kid, but for Tiến, he doesn’t even have the right words because his parents are struggling with their English. Is there a Vietnamese word for what he’s going through?
Is there a way to tell them he’s gay?
A beautifully illustrated story by Trung Le Nguyen that follows a young boy as he tries to navigate life through fairytales, an instant classic that shows us how we are all connected. The Magic Fish tackles tough subjects in a way that accessible with readers of all ages, and teaches us that no matter what—we can all have our own happy endings.
(Disclaimer: I received this book from Netgalley. This has not impacted my review which is unbiased and honest.)
Where do I start with how much I loved The Magic Fish? Let me begin by saying that I adored not only the drawing style of Nguyen, but also the color palette in the entire graphic novel. The different color panels, for the stories versus the POVs made it both easier to understand, but also a beautiful tableau of colors. The illustrations were phenomenal, both whimsical and magical, while also being delicate.
In The Magic Fish, Nguyen is able to balance fairytales with Tiến struggling both with his potential coming out as well as his family struggles. I loved reading about Tiến’s relationship with his mother, the stories they share before bed, and how The Magic Fish emphasizes the ways we find pieces of ourselves in stories. How they impact, influence, and create the worlds and possibilities swirling around us.
The Magic Fish does not stop charming you, when it also touches upon the guilt, and complex emotions, of Tiến’s mom having left her family and her home to come to the US. At the same time, it details the pressure and necessity for her to flee and search for a better future. I don’t think I was expecting how much I would love The Magic Fish, especially as the story progressed, and can only highly recommend it to everyone. It is an emotional story about family and the possibility for stories to create new worlds and truths.