In British novelist Almond’s latest, the trouble starts when Ernie Potts decides to turn his house on Fish Quay Lane into a loud, stinky fish-canning factory, and his nephew Stan has to quit school to work.
But the adventure starts on Stan’s birthday, when he’s granted a rare day off, stumbles upon a nearby fair and is told by the fortunetelling Gypsy Rose, “You are entranced. You will be dejected. You will travel. And we will meet again.” Stan, however, is too entranced by the dying goldfish offered as prizes at Mr. Dostoyevsky’s hook-a-duck stall to absorb her prophecy. He rescues the 13 fish—but in vain. Greedy and obsessed, Uncle Ernie pan-fries and cans his nephew’s new best friends that very night, and Stan, knowing Ernie is now truly barmy, runs away. Stan heads back to the traveling carnival, where he soon becomes the protégé of the mustachioed Pancho Pirelli, the piranha-proof man. Almond’s wonderstruck philosophical bent, earthy humor, lovely use of language and colorful characters keep readers swimming along, as does the personable narrator who playfully demands an examination of the storytelling process as it happens. Jeffers’ spare, cartoonish pencil sketches perfectly suit the salty, magical tale.
A buoyant, delightfully Almond-ine coming-of-age novel about fish, fate and family; moonlight, madness and myth; runts, “Rackanruwin” and, finally, redemption. (Fiction. 8-12)