Word Nerd Review: Fish Girl by David Wiesner and Donna Jo Napoli
Review by Trisha Quezada
Fish Girl is a graphic novel that’s written in the spirit of a classic fairy tale. On the surface it’s a story about friendship and family. Underneath, however, is a distinctly unsettling thread of abduction and imprisonment.
Fish Girl is a mermaid that lives in an aquarium and performs for the children by playing elaborate games of hide and seek. She does this because she believes that Neptune, the god of the oceans, saved her when she was a baby and is keeping her safe. One day a little girl about her own age sneaks into the off-limits portion of the aquarium and they become friends. At this point, Fish Girl begins to question everything: Why won’t Neptune let me speak? Why can’t I have other friends? Does he really control the waves?
Fish Girl continues to defy Neptune. She remains friends with the girl, sneaks out of her tank to discover the secrets of the aquarium, and eventually confronts Neptune. It is during this confrontation that she causes a storm that destroys the aquarium. In the aftermath of the storm she reunites with her friend, gives up being a mermaid, and becomes part of their family.
While I think most young kids won’t pick up on the darker themes (any more than they do in Snow White or Rapunzel), and the beauty of the illustrations helps to keep it light, it’s something to keep in mind if you’re looking at this as a family read. I found it very unsettling, though my kids didn’t notice. I think it would be interesting to read with slightly older kids and talk about some of the underlying themes with them.