The Magic Fish is an absolutely beautiful graphic novel–both the pictures and the story itself. It’s the story of a boy, Tiến, whose been keeping a secret from his friends and family. Tiến’s parents emigrated to the U.S. from Vietnam. His parents are working on improving their English, and so every night he reads fairy tales with his mother. Meanwhile, he tries to figure out how to cross the language barrier to tell his parents that he’s gay.
To help his mother with her English, she and Tiến read fairy tales together every night. Three fairy tales are interwoven into the graphic novel: two versions of “Cinderella,” and “The Little Mermaid.”
This book is so lovely. The story is beautiful, the people in it are appealing, the illustrations are gorgeous. The fairy tales are woven into Tiến’s story and provide extra context into what he and his mother are feeling. The color work is also really interesting–the fairy tales are purple, the present is red, and when Tiến’s mother is remembering events from Vietnam, the panels are yellow. It’s short, and I finished it in one sitting–not hard to do both because of the length, and because it’s so charming.
The first fairy tale is one that Tiến tells, and it’s a version of Cinderella that I’d never read before. It was my favorite part of the book. I was interested to read in the author’s notes that the illustrations for each fairy tale are different based on who’s telling it. Since Tiến is young and presumably grew up watching Disney cartoons, the illustrations for this fairy tale reflect that. The second fairy tale (another Cinderella, this one a Vietnamese version that’s incredibly disturbing), is told by Tiến’s great-aunt and has its characters in typical fashions from the 50s, and the third (“The Little Mermaid”) is told by Tiến’s mother and has parallels to her story of emigrating to the United States. These little touches are so clever and well-done.
I can’t praise this book enough. I loved it and recommend it highly!