Review: The Goldfish Boy by Lisa Thompson

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Matthew Corbin suffers from severe obsessive-compulsive disorder. He hasn't been to school in weeks. His hands are cracked and bleeding from cleaning. He refuses to leave his bedroom. To pass the time, he observes his neighbors from his bedroom window, making mundane notes about their habits as they bustle about the cul-de-sac.

When a toddler staying next door goes missing, it becomes apparent that Matthew was the last person to see him alive. Suddenly, Matthew finds himself at the center of a high-stakes mystery, and every one of his neighbors is a suspect. Matthew is the key to figuring out what happened and potentially saving a child's life... but is he able to do so if it means exposing his own secrets, and stepping out from the safety of his home?

Full disclosure, I listed to this book via Hoopla, and I tend to like the audio book version of something, that I KNOW I wouldn't have liked if I'd only read it.

Normally, I would never have picked up this book but I'm darn glad I did. Matthew has severe OCD. He only eats pre-packaged food, he keeps a box of gloves hidden under his bed and refuses to go without them, he refuses to let anyone into his room, and he talks to a section of the wall paper that looks like a lion. I was most impressed by how Thompson chose to keep readers in the dark about what triggered Matthews OCD without beating us over the head. There are so many book where the main character spends more time reminding us that they're keeping a secrete, than doing anything else, Saving Red is full of it. In Goldfish Boy, we knew that there was an inciting incident, we might even have been able to guess that it involved Matthews baby brother, and although Matthew mentioned "what he did", he wasn't overwhelming about it.

I liked the email exchanges between Matthew and the kids in the neighborhood and the way Thompson peppered past interactions with them throughout the book. (P.S. The little girl next door was pure evil. I'm sure of it.)

At then end of the book when Matthew finally explained what triggered his OCD, my heart broke. It wasn't what I expected AT ALL. I have never been so sad for a little boy in my life.

I struggled with the parents, particularly the dad. I have very... specific parents. so I can spend a lot of my time thinking "do people have parents who really do that?" I'm not sure if was the audio book reader, or the actual character, but I struggled, and I'm not even sure why. Matthews mom tried to act as if everything was normal. She'd attempt to pull him into conversation and invite him out to family events that she knew darn good and well he wasn't going to go to. Matthew's dad, kind of did that as well, but there was a scene (SMALL SPOILER) where he went into Matthews room and pulled down, the wall paper, repainted, cleaned, and basically destroyed Matthew's life. It didn't sit well with me. As i'm typing this, I think my issue with the book was that Matthew's parents acted as if they had no idea was OCD was, like they had never heard of it, and couldn't recognize it in their own son. It would be one thing if they knew he had OCD and we upset and overwhelmed by it, but it was almost as if their internal dialogue was something along the lines of, "my son scrubs down everything with bleach, he wont let us touch him, he wont go outside, he's terrified of germs and everything that breads them, and I have no idea what's wrong with him. Whatever could it be." This book seemed to take place in the modern day. Don't they have Google. The parents did ultimately get him to therapy but... I don't know, they just didn't read right.

That being said, they parents didn't bother me enough to not like the book. 

I can't say if this is a proper representation of a person who suffers from OCD because I don't have it. I also can't say if this book is Own Voices or what insight the author might have into the life of a person with OCD because there were no authors notes, but I can say that I think this book can go a long way toward helping children understand life might be like for someone who's different from them, and give them some insight on how to act accordingly. These types of books are important because it teaches kids that there are people in the world who are different from them, but at the end of the day, they're still people.

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