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Fish Girl: 04/20/17

Fish Girl by Donna Jo Napoli

Fish Girl by Donna Jo Napoli and David Wiesner is the debut graphic novel for these two established authors. I hope it marks the first of many collaborations as together they spin a tale that is both magical and thought provoking.

The titular character is an unnamed mermaid living in an aquarium made inside a multistory brick building, that was probably at one point part of a larger row of offices or apartments. She is the "star" of a show run by King Neptune but her job is to provide enough of a glimpse to keep the visitors guessing where she is, so that they will come back and spend more money. Times though are tough and the show is failing.

Neptune, though, isn't who he says he is. He is very clearly a con man, and a gas-lighter. The stories he tells the mermaid are just there to keep her complacent, to keep her playing the game and not asking questions of her situation or of his true identity.

Everything changes for the mermaid when a girl about her age starts sneaking behind the scenes to talk to her. Her questions and her unconditional friendship spur the mermaid to re-examen her situation.

The fantasy of a mermaid trapped in an old building is a visual metaphor for child abuse and child trafficking. The message is there but it's not heavy handed. It's not a problem book, but everything that the mermaid is going through, including the point at the end when "Neptune" refuses to let the authorities search the rubble for her, is what can and does happen to people being abused.

It's not the story I was expecting, but it's one that I will be talking about and recommending.

Five stars

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