Wow, what a beautiful graphic novel. I wish I hadn’t put off reading this for so long!
Tiến is a young teen who is the son of Vietnamese immigrants who often reads stories with his parents after school when they are working on hobbies, or his mother is sewing. He is struggling in school a bit because of his sexuality, as he thinks he’s gay. The problem is, he doesn’t know how to tell his parents how he feels as there is a language barrier between them. He speaks to his local librarian and confides in her, but they are unable to find the proper words to convey how he feels in Vietnamese. He agrees to go to a school dance with a boy he likes and their female friend as a group and wants to tell his parents about it but worries about judgment.
While he is struggling to tell his story, his mother is struggling with her life here in the states as the rest of her family is back in Vietnam. We get snippets of her life as a younger woman and all the struggle she went through in order to get safely to America. When Tiến’s mother must return to Vietnam for an event, a teacher gives him detention and makes him speak to a priest after seeing him dance with his crush at the big school dance.
The struggles of both Tiến and his mother are told through not only their words but the fairytales they read together. They read versions of Little Mermaid and Cinderella, for example, but from the Vietnamese perspective, so the stories are different from the ones we grew up on here in the states. These fairytales they read to one another act as stand-ins for the emotions and words they are unable to convey. When Tiến is finally able to speak to his mother about who he truly is inside, she expresses her acceptance of him in the form of a fairytale as well, and it is absolutely gorgeous.
The art of this book is unreal. I loved looking at every single page just as much as I adored reading. Nguyen assigns specific colors to Tiến and his mother, as well as the fairytales, so it’s easy to tell who’s story we’re viewing and why it’s important. Having a limited color palette adds so much to this graphic novel, providing a truly inspired way of conveying how Tiến feels as he listens to the stories and flashbacks to his experiences.
This is utterly wonderful and a book everyone should pick up. An excellent example of the power of family and unconditional love.
Title: The Magic Fish
Author: Le Nguyen Trung
Three Descriptors: Unconventional, Diverse, Feel-Good
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