Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt. 271 p. Nancy Paulsen Books/ Penguin Young Readers Group, February 5, 2015. 9780399162596. (Review from arc courtesy of publisher.)
Ally Nickerson has a secret. She has been able to keep it because her family has moved just about yearly for each of the six years she has been in school. She can't read. The letters swim before her eyes and she gets headaches each time she tries to read. She'd love to read. She has decided that she's just too stupid to learn and has devised ways to hide her secret. Unfortunately, her solution is to act up until she is sent to the principal's office. She'd love to stay out of trouble. She feels for her mother, who works long hours as a waitress while her father is deployed in Iraq. She really doesn't want to add to her mother's worries but she is stuck.
This is the first year she'll be attending the same school two years in a row. Her sixth grade teacher, Mrs. Hall, is leaving to have a baby and she wants Ally to try and write something for Mr. Daniels, the teacher who will be replacing her. Ally digs her heels in and won't; so she's sent to the principal's office. Mrs. Silver is growing weary of Ally's obstinance.
Class mean girl, Shay, seems to have it in for Ally but includes Albert and Kiesha in her sniping. The thing is, neither one of them seem to let Shay get to them. This intrigues Ally. It isn't long before the three of them form a tentative friendship.
Mr. Daniels is not like any teacher Ally has encountered. First of all, he calls his students "Fantasticos" and seems to celebrate everything. Most importantly, he doesn't get mad at Ally's antics. He seems to want to truly understand her.
From page 56 of the arc: "Ally?" He pauses. "Can you tell me why you don't want to be seen?"
"I think it would be easier to be invisible."
I shrug. I want to give him an answer, but I have both too many words and not enough.
My arc is totally dog-earred as rarely did a page go by that I wasn't struck by something - a turn of phrase, a phenomenal simile, Ally's hysterical observation, or a bit of dialogue that rang so true, I needed to savor it. This is a book I will definitely reread more than once. I see it's releasing as an audiobook as well so that's a definite reread. I can open to any page and settle right in. While Ally catapulted into my heart in the first paragraph, Albert, Kiesha, Oliver, Travis, Mr. Daniels and even Mr. and Mrs. Nickerson found spots as well.
Even though the teachers at my school are extraordinary at identifying student learning issues, my thoughts kept turning to one teacher in particular. Mr. Daniels reminds me of her. I want her to read the book next. But I want all the teachers to read it and will encourage them to read it aloud to their students. Students will find much to relate to and to discuss. Finally, I know just which of my readers are going to love Fish in a Tree. I don't expect to see it sit much once a finished copy hits my library's shelf.
I enjoyed Ms. Mullaly Hunt's debut, One for the Murphys and was so looking forward to her sophomore offering. I was feeling such jealousy of folks who were lucky receivers of arcs. Then, I received an arc at a book event but was unable to get to it till now. I'm glad I didn't squeeze it in among my other reading obligations. This one deserved 100% attention. I also resisted swallowing it whole. The buzz and hype are well-deserved. Hooray for Lynda Mullaly Hunt and Fish in a Tree!