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Review of Goldfish Ghost

Goldfish Ghost
by Lemony Snicket; illus. by Lisa Brown
Primary    Porter/Roaring Brook    40 pp.
5/17    978-1-62672-507-2    $17.99

This story begins with a death framed in terms of a birth. “Goldfish Ghost was born on the surface of the water in a bowl on the dresser in a boy’s room.” Our hero is faced with the classic ghost dilemmas: loneliness and the need for connection. He wafts around the seaside town (upside-down, of course), looking for companionship. But the world of the living has no time for a small ghost fish. Finally, he meets the ghost of a lighthouse keeper, who is also looking for company, and his wanderings are over. “The two ghosts settled in together, looking out quietly at the world. They were very good company.” In this straightforward quest story, told in simple words, the emotion is conveyed by color. The world of the living, a crowded, noisy beach scene, is all warm pink and beige, the figures interacting with one another and with the landscape. The ghost world is slate-gray and dark teal, and the ghost figures, in typing-paper white, sit atop the background; they aren’t integrated into it. When the lighthouse keeper places the ghost fish inside the lighthouse light — itself only a memory of a light — he takes on a faint hint of color, a hint of the goldfish he used to be. It’s an oddly powerful visual detail. In the field of pet bereavement narratives, this one stands out for tenderness, originality, and subtlety.

From the May/June 2017 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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About Sarah Ellis

Sarah Ellis is a Vancouver-based writer and critic, recently retired from the faculty of The Vermont College of Fine Arts.

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