“We’ll put this box on the bottom shelf.” Cameron drags the box over and slides it in next to the box of baby clothes.
“A place for everything; everything in its place. That’s what my dad says.”
If everything has its place, why do I feel like I don’t know where I fit?
Almost everyone growing up goes through phases of feeling displaced. This is only amplified if, as does our sweet protagonist, you sit on the hyphen between two worlds. Half-Colombian, half-American, Little Eddie can’t quite find his place in the world. He’s eleven years old, his best (and possibly only) friend has moved far away; and he just found out that his older half-brother, whose arrival from Colombia he has been so looking forward to, can’t come because his abuela is terminally ill.
Abuela, who knew Little Eddie’s deceased father, asks that Little Eddie come visit her in Cartagena. Suddenly, his sad summer isn’t quite as downcast as he embarks on a magical trip. It is that time in Cartagena, spent with his half brother and his sweet abuela, learning about his father and his heritage, pushing through grief and loss, that brings forth “Tito,” (a name of his own!) and allows Little Eddie to flourish.
If you haven’t been living under a rock, you’ve noticed the tectonic cultural shift taking place. That shift is slowly replacing the underlying plates that buttress the toxic masculinity permeating our society. When I was growing up, for example, most coming of age tales similar to What if a Fish had female leads or illustrated the relationship between male and female characters (with the female always pulling the male into the dreaded depths of emotional entanglement). Feelings between male leads were often submerged or left unwritten, thereby unspoken. Fajardo breaks those old narratives and gives us characters that refreshingly reflect genuine male feelings of love and gratitude for one’s family, of loss, forgiveness, friendship, and even healthy boundaries and power.
I want more of this kind of book for my kids. Without making it mushy or unbelievable, Fajardo masterfully intertwines the stories of this precocious not-child and his not-adult brother into one of the sweetest narratives I’ve read in a long time. She allows them to be vulnerable and share a very tender bond that flies in the face of the machismo we’ve been told to expect, and to celebrate.
I also love how Fajardo humanizes all her characters, even the most minor. The interplay between Little Eddie and Abuela is incredibly rich. Despite the language barrier, Tito (as Abuela christens Little Eddie) and Abuela forge a strong connection in the little time they have. Even the bullies in the story are fully human. For example, without excusing it, Fajardo notes their threadbare shirts, a nod to the homelife that has clearly influenced their behavior.
This is a beautifully written tale–a gentle story that explores the depths of grief, the loss of loved ones, the expanses of family, and the building blocks that make all of us human. So what does this have to do with fish, or fishing? Not a whole lot, and everything. I highly recommend you read the book to find out.
What if a Fish
Simon & Schuster
More books for this Age Group can be found here.
My thanks to Simon & Schuster for providing a Review Copy of this book. All opinions provided herein are my own.
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Anjali (She, Her, Ms.) is the mother of twins, akin to being the mother of dragons. Hailing from Kenya, Anjali has made a career of graduating into recessions and pivoting her experiences to fit ever-shifting worlds. Currently residing in Columbia, MD, Anjali is an accidental homeschooler hoping to raise rebellious anarchists.
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