Cover of Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt. A a tree.

About the Book

Title: Fish in a Tree
Published: 2015

Cover Story: Like the Name Says
Drinking Buddy: The Geek Table
Testosterone Estrogen Level: Strength
Talky Talk: Dying Inside
Bonus Factor: Awesome Teacher, Fact Spouting Nerd
Bromance Status: Required Reading

Cover Story: Like the Name Says

What you see is what you get, though if you aren’t familiar with that phrase, you might not catch what’s going on.

The Deal:

Everyone thinks elementary student Ally is dumb and lazy. And she never argues that point. You see, the truth is worse. She cannot read. It takes her forever just to get through one page. And she’d much rather have people think she won’t work than to know that she’s desperately stupid. And if that means she has no friends, then so be it.

But when her teacher goes on maternity leave, there’s a new sub in town. Mr. Daniels has some crazy ideas. Like that learning should be fun. That every child should participate in class. And that no child is stupid.

Well, Ally has heard that song and dance before. She’s just going to keep her head down and wait for all this to blow over. She doesn’t want this young, enthusiastic teacher to realize how dumb one of his kids is.

Drinking Buddy: The Geek Table

A pitcher and glass of milk

Despite her solitary lifestyle, Ally falls in with tell-it-like-it-is Keisha, the only African-American student in class; and Albert, the facts-obsessed geek. Maybe they kind of don’t fit in either. And as the more popular kids take their shots, Ally realizes that there’s something to be said for outcasts like her two new friends. And that maybe, there’s something to be said for someone like Ally.

Testosterone Estrogen Level: Strength

It’s funny how we often expect kids to put up with things that we, as adults, would never stand for. Bullying, obsessive testing, conformity, and having to ask permission to pee. And yet, they somehow thrive. I liked watching Ally and her friends realize that life is not the school hierarchy, and that maybe great things are in store for all of them.

Talky Talk: Dying Inside

It breaks my heart to see how creative, artistic Ally has already given up on herself. Hey, she’s stupid, and the school has the tests that prove it. Every time she tries to assert herself, she just ends up embarrassed. When her old teacher goes on maternity leave, Ally buys her the prettiest card in the store, kind of hoping it’ll mend fences. Unfortunately, it turns out to be a sympathy card, and the teacher is unamused by what she thinks is an attempt at dark humor. Just when Ally starts to trust Mr. Daniels, he misses a day of work. And when the substitute goes over the day’s lesson plan, she publicly reads Mr. Daniel’s private notes. “Which one of you is Ally? It says here you don’t have to write a story like everyone else, just draw a picture.”

Buy Ally has her moments. When Keisha is punished over a misunderstanding, Ally breaks the same rule, just so they can face the fire together. When she and Keisha realize Albert is being bullied, they help him stand up to his tormentors. And Ally realizes that Shay, the queen bee of the class, may not be as well-liked as everyone thinks.

Junior high is coming, kids. People are going to try to make you feel bad about yourself. Don’t start believing them.

Bonus Factor: Awesome Teacher

Tina Fey as Ms. Norbury, the awesome match teacher in Mean Girls

Mr. Daniels is a long-term sub, so he has a lot more leeway than a regular teacher. He’s not as concerned with tests, state standards, and other nonsense. He can take time to get to know his kids and maybe see things a stressed-out classroom teacher might miss.

And now I go to spend two weeks giving standardized tests to my students.

Bonus Factor: Fact-Spouting Nerd

A row of brown leather encyclopedias on a shelf

I really liked Albert. He’d spout off all kinds of random facts and figures, unaware that absolutely no one is interested. Ally and Keisha are fond of him, as he’s a fellow outcast. Albert is physically bullied, but puts up with it because he doesn’t believe in violence. Until the bullies turn on his friends…

Bromance Status: Required Reading

I hope a lot of teachers have a chance to read this. I know this one enjoyed it.

FTC full disclosure: I received neither money nor fresh baked cupcakes for this review.

Brian wrote his first YA novel when he was down and out in Mexico. He now lives in Missouri with his wonderful wife and daughter. He divides his time between writing and working as a school librarian. Brian still misses the preachy YA books of the eighties.