Review of The Magic Fish

The Magic Fish
by Trung Le Nguyen; illus. by the author
Middle School    RH Graphic/Random    256 pp.   g
10/20    978-0-593-12529-8    $23.99
Library ed.  978-1-9848-5160-4    $26.99
Paper ed.  978-1-9848-5159-8    $16.99
e-book ed.  978-1-9848-5161-1    $10.99

In this imaginative graphic novel, thirteen-year-old Vietnamese American boy Tin and his Vietnamese-refugee seamstress mother, Hin, have always loved stories, with the two often reading library books aloud while enjoying time together. Nguyen (a comic artist also known as Trungles) delves into the world of Vietnamese fairy tales, including “Cinderella” and “The Little Mermaid” variants. Themes from these works — parent-child struggles, unrequited love, and the timeless quest to attain one’s innermost desires, for example — are reflected in the versions of the illustrated retellings Tin reads and in his day-to-day life at home and school, including his secret crush on a male classmate. Nguyen’s artistry radiates elegance on every page. Pastel shades of red, brown, and purple alternate to signify present, past, and imaginative plot segments. While some panels feature characters in pensive curiosity or profound melancholy, others burst with vibrancy, their exquisite portraits spanning an entire page or across multiple panels. Infused with emotional depth and integrity, this coming-of-age story broadens the range of Vietnamese American creative voices in books for young people.

From the January/February 2021 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Jerry Dear

Jerry Dear, information strategist at the San Francisco Public Library, also teaches in the Library Information Technology program at City College of San Francisco. He contributes to the blogs for APALA, Hyphen Magazine, and No Flying No Tights.

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