Fishtailing by Wendy Phillips

While I sometimes feel like the novel in verse format is being overused, it worked really well for this story.  I think it is partly because the format covers a lot of ground very quickly, and thus makes it easier to have several main characters.  Much more than that, though, I think it is easier for readers to delve into books about such tough topics when they can do so in short bursts.  This was definitely a hard book to read.  Not because it was written badly, but because it gave voice to some harsh realities — much like Ellen Hopkins’ books.  Since some people react with squeamishness to books like this, and such squeamishness sometimes leads to book challenges/attempts at banning, I felt this was a perfect book to kick off my Banned Books Week  reviews.

The premise of the story is that the poems are being written for a school assignment, so there are occasional interjections from their teacher and school counselor, but the majority of the story is told via the poetry of four teens — Natalie, Tricia, Miguel, and Kyle.  Natalie has been neglected by her alcoholic parents for so long that she seeks attention in all the wrong ways.  And because of a traumatic event in her past, she has ultimately turned to hurting others in order to regain a feeling of control in her life.  Enter Tricia, who so wants a friend that she blindly follows the new girl [Natalie] into her world of darkness, lies, and self-mutilation.  Miguel is a refugee who has experienced unbelievable horrors but finds some normalcy in his lusting after Natalie.  And then there’s Kyle, who doesn’t have nearly as many issues as the other teens but gets drawn into this mess because he is in love with Tricia. I can’t say any more than that without spoilers, so you will just have to take my word for it.  Fans of Ellen Hopkins should definitely check out this book.

Happy Banned Books Week!


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