Fish in a Tree

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by Lynda Mullaly Hunt
Overall: 5 out of 5 stars

Oh wow. This book has all the feels. I was sort of keeping my distance since this one was already really popular at my library so it felt like one that was selling itself and I had a general idea that it was good and also that it was along the lines of Wonder somehow. But then I actually read (or rather, listened to) it, and was just blown away.

Ally is in sixth grade and has mostly skated through school by being a troublemaker and pretending a lot. The truth is, she can’t read. The resident mean girls (really one mean girl and her crony, who actually turns out to be sort of nice) figure this out and target her more than they do other kids. But their teacher goes on maternity leave and they get a new teacher who doesn’t let her get away with much – and she finds she doesn’t want to. She wants to work hard, but she has so internalized what Shay has been saying, which is that she’s stupid. There are some completely heartbreaking scenes – so many, in fact, that I almost couldn’t get past the second of five CDs. Finally the new teacher, Mr. Daniels, figures out that Ally has dyslexia and manages to get her reading. There are themes of friendship and misfits, silver dollars and wooden nickels, poetry and spelling and class president and student of the month – everything you could want in a middle-grade story.

Ally starts the year with no friends, but soon irrepressible Keisha, who doesn’t care what anyone says and somehow doesn’t already have friends, decides nothing Ally says or does will make Keisha not like her. They also team up with Albert, who is nerdy and poor. They all get picked on by Shay, who it turns out has an overbearing mother, but they stand up for each other.

The other main theme, aside from the bullying and dyslexia, is family. Ally’s grandfather has passed away sometime relatively recently, maybe about a year ago, and her father is in the army, currently deployed. The scene where they go to a neighbor’s house to skype with him is incredibly moving. Ally adores her older brother, Travis, who adores her back, but he has his own issues. I couldn’t help thinking of Mr. Daniels as a sort of substitute father figure for Ally.

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