“Silence Is Goldfish” by Annabel Pitcher

I’d seen this book around and heard about it at YALC, so when I saw it was available to request from NetGalley it made sense to do so. I’ve read My Sister Lives On The Mantelpiece — quite a few years ago now, but I remember it reasonably well — but no other Annabel Pitcher books, and I thought I’d give it a go.

silence is goldfish
It isn’t unlike My Sister Lives On The Mantelpiece in that it’s a story about a family falling apart and then coming back together again, although this time it’s not because of death, but because of a mistaken revelation where the protagonist believes her dad doesn’t love her and wasn’t even her biological father, but a sperm donor. So she goes in search of her biological father, while keeping quiet as a sort of act of protest against her parents for lying to her.

It explores ideas about biology versus upbringing, which I find fascinating — I’m interested in both nature vs nurture and in the idea of found families, so this is what drew me in.

Some of the characters in this were intriguing: apparently kind on the surface, they were actually shockingly manipulative, while others seemed kinder in the end than they’d originally seemed. I think the book could also be said to be exploring ideas about emotional honesty and communication, partly due to the idea of silence.

The title, you see, refers to the protagonist’s non-verbal act of protest / distress, and a torch shaped like a goldfish with which she communicates. Her silence both helps and hinders her, because although she can’t be tricked into saying things she shouldn’t have, she also can’t defend herself. As for the torch, well… I now understand why we got keyring lights as merch for the book at YALC, but frankly that was the weirdest part of the book for me. She’s imagining this goldfish to be alive, and talking to it and it to her. At first, she acknowledges that this is an odd thing to do, but before long it seems normal to her, while it’s still disconcerting to the reader.

Yet she’s very scared of being considered crazy or referred to mental health services, and when she’s recommended to CAMHS (Children and Adolescent Mental Health Services), her parents basically panic. They’re massively distressed by the idea that she should go to a psychologist. Which… doesn’t really make sense to me. Can we maybe not with the whole ‘mental illness is the worst thing ever’ approach? The book could definitely have done more to look critically at that stigma against getting help, because people shouldn’t be afraid of seeking the support they need.

The book also deals with overbearing parents, and the opposite problem of uncaring parents, as well as the stresses and strains of family life. My enjoyment of it was slightly impeded by formatting issues, probably not NetGalley’s fault, which made it hard to be objective, although there were some good lines that amused me.

I didn’t really get why the protagonist (… shh, can you tell I’ve forgotten her name?) feels the need to be ironic about being a nerd when she’d clearly be happier if she just expressed herself. Her best friend Isabel is delightfully nerdy, and I question the idea that a school in this day and age would contain so many people opposed to nerdiness. It’s not my experience, and in a world where Primark sells Star Wars t-shirts, I think most teenagers are probably going to be more chill about it.

Me vs all secondary/high school books: did I go to a weird school or is this book inaccurate? Were my friends atypical, or does this writer not really understand modern teenagers? Do *I* not understand modern teenagers because it’s two years since I left school and I’m already getting out of touch? WHO KNOWS. I get increasingly elderly with every year that passes, after all — perhaps my apathy is just the twenty-something version of yelling at kids to get off my lawn.

Anyway, I liked it, but I wouldn’t say I loved it — there were definitely elements I had issues with, and some aspects of it seemed a bit weak. This may be because it had been majorly hyped to me beforehand, but that’s unavoidable when you hang out with book bloggers. Hype is a massive book-killer, sadly. However, I think I’d have had issues with this even if that hadn’t been the case.

Rating: ***

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