Review: Silence is Goldfish by Annabel Pitcher

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Hardcover, 352 pages
Published May 17th 2016 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Source: Publisher

“I tell you what, I should write my own blog for that stupid website, tell everyone how it feels to be a donor-conceived person. What does that even mean? I’m human, aren’t I? Not some science experiment. I’m somebody’s daughter. That means somebody’s my dad. You can’t just donate sperm and be done with it. It doesn’t work like that, does it? I belong to someone!”

Silence is Goldfish comes from Annabel Pitcher who wrote one of my favourite books My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece. And in her signature style, in Silence of the Goldfish Pitcher gives us a personable heroine, Tess Turner, whose relationship with her dad goes south after she reads an extremely hateful portion of a blog post that, among other things, reveals that Tess was conceived not by the man she thinks is her father but by a sperm donor.

All of a sudden, things begin to make a lot more sense to Tess. All her life, she has struggled for her father’s approval and now that she finds out that he is not her father but simply the man her mother married, she understands why she always feels that he is too critical of her. Her weight, her grades, everything seems about her seems to rub him the wrong way. Tess has done things she is not proud of to earn his approval. She has told him that she is friends with Anna, the local mean girl, and erased the existence of her actual best friend because she’s afraid Jack, her father, will not approve of her.

But now that she knows he is not even her real father, she is thrown at sea because the entire foundation of her life has been stripped away. The only form of protest available to her is stop talking. Her parents don’t know she knows so they are understandably mystified when she deliberately goes mute. The only…person? I don’t know if you can call him a person, is a gold fish shaped children’s flashlight that she bought before she unsuccessfully attempted to run away to London.

Tess becomes not a little obsessed with finding who her real father is and yes, she makes decisions that are childish and ludicrous to us but that is how she deals. A new teacher at school who has the same colouring and similar features she does is pronounced to be her father despite the goldfish’s warning that she is being el loco. Tess places this new teacher and possible dad on a pedestal but the man is scum and though everyone can see it, she is too blinded by her desire to see him as a father to do so.

Meanwhile the bullying escalates to the point that her one friendship falls apart and people start calling her “Balls” because someone has spread the rumour that she’s a man. Charming, eh? One particular bullying incident becomes memorable because the beautiful guy her bullies want to impress by bullying Tess refuses to play and in fact, kisses Tess to prove that everyone else is an asshole. I applauded at that point.

It turns out that the beautiful boy is Henry and Tess’s possible half-brother, a fact Mr. Goldfish takes great pleasure in reminding Tess of. Henry is one of the more interesting characters in the novel and despite the disgustingness of his dad, he remains a pretty cool character throughout. Pitcher doesn’t offer romance except in possibilities and honestly, I am happy with that because there is so much more to explore in terms of family relationships.

Silence is Goldfish primarily deals with family relationships and in a stark way breaks down a father into a stranger before building him again. Tess learns that a sperm is not all that makes a man a father, that parents can be people and people are flawed but that doesn’t decrease the amount of love they have for you. She is luckier in this than many others her age are.

Pitcher is particularly skilled in telling a story that does romanticize anything. She gives you the nitty gritty details of an everyday life and furnishes the details with characters who could be you or your neighbours, people who exist in real life rather than the pages of a novel.

My favourite character was the improbable goldfish who gives a running commentary on Tess’s actions and whose advice is often sound–not that Tess follows it.

I liked this novel. It’s sad and makes you a bit uncomfortable but on the whole it’s a different story than anything I have read and I like that.