(1/20) The Magic Fish Reflection – “20 YA Novels for Adolescents”

The Magic Fish is a semi-autobiographical graphic novel written and illustrated by Trung Le Nguyen. It was published on October 13, 2020 and consists of 256 pages. Nguyen was nominated for an Eisner Award in the Best Writer/Artist category for The Magic Fish and he won the 2021 Harvey Award for Book of the Year.

The Magic Fish is about a Vietnamese-American teenager named Tiến, who struggles to come out to his parents with his sexuality. He’s not only struggling to figure out how to come out, but he’s also struggling to figure out how to communicate it to them, considering that his immigrant parents don’t speak English very well. Throughout the novel, Tiến is teaches his mother, Hiền, English by reading fairy tales together, which also seems to resonate with Hien’s immigrant past and Tien’s present life and struggles.

I wanted to read this graphic novel because of how relatable it was to me. I’m a Sudanese/Black Muslim who was born in the United States, but I was raised in Egypt for my first couple of years. My sixth grade year was when my family finally settled in the United States and just like Tiến, although not the exact same struggles, I had my fair share of struggles moving to a new country and experiencing a new culture.

Knowing that I would have loved to have a graphic novel like this at the time to read and relate to the struggles, I would recommend this book to third graders who may have recently moved to the United States. At such a young age, it’s important that they know negative feelings like this are normal to have and a good way for them to know it’s normal is by seeing someone else go through them, even if it’s in a fictional story.

If I wanted to do a read aloud from this graphic novel to my students, the read aloud I might go with are:

  • Pgs. 108 – 114, “Returning to a Place I’ve Never Been”.

  • Pgs. 119 – 138, “Visiting Vietnam”.

The story is beautifully written in a way that weaves together the fairy tales that Tiến reads with his mother to help teach her English and their own life experiences. The story indirectly shows how Tiến and his mother relate to the fairy tales. It almost feels like Tiến and his mother are relating to the fairy tales the same way I’m relating to the graphic novel itself.

After reading The Magic Fish, I would like to read more graphic novels (and novels) that consists of themes of immigrating to a new country, especially immigrating to the United States. Although this graphic novel did relate to my struggles, it didn’t relate to all of my struggles, so I want to explore more novels/graphic novels with a similar theme in hopes of maybe finding more of my experiences being mirrored. It was a wonderful read!

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