Saturday, May 22, 2021

The Goldfish Boy

The Goldfish Boy
by Lisa Thompson
Recommended Ages: 11+

Matthew has been trapped indoors for weeks by severe and worsening fears and anxieties – mostly germs, but also the unlucky number "tenplusthree" – and his family is starting to show strain. He's been missing school. He's done so much washing and cleaning that the skin of his hands is sore. His parents don't see eye to eye on how to deal with him. And he doesn't have much to do except keeping detailed records of the movements of everybody on Chestnut Close, their cul de sac. His constant hovering behind the upstairs windows of his bedroom and the family office earns him some dirty looks from their neighbors and a nickname from the snotty granddaughter of the codger next door: "Goldfish Boy."

Some of you may have guessed what Matthew's diagnosis will be when his mother finally cajoles him into seeing a couneslor. Yes, kids, its OCD – obsessive compulsive disorder when not at home – but then, Matthew is hardly ever not at home. His case of OCD comes with the full equipment: obsessive thinking (germs crawling on him!), compulsive behavior (hand washing, deep cleaning) and even some mildly psychotic symptoms (like his conversations with the lion he imagines looking down from the corner of his bedroom wallpaper). He's a right mess, almost never descending from the second floor of his house, avoiding the family cat like the plague (literally), and experiencing guilt about the death of his infant brother as a beetle gnawing at his innards. Yet in spite of his challenges, or rather partly because of them, he's the last person to see a little kid – the neighbor codger's toddler grandson – before he up and disappears.

Despite everyone in the neighborhood joining in the search, and police swarming all over the close, little Teddy persists in not turning up. At first it looks like the lonely, homebound kid with too much time on his hands is going to show everybody up by his unique thought processes and powers of observation. But even he, albeit reluctantly, has to accept a little help from a couple other kids in the neighborhood, although the girl is a little weird and the boy is a bit of a bully. As suspicion falls on one resident of the neighborhood after another, Matthew is drawn farther and farther outside his comfort zone – as well as to the realization that he wants to get better.

This is a story with a heart for hurting people that I think will touch many readers' hearts. So many people in his neighborhood reveal frailties, fears and sorrows that at elicit first suspicion, then compassion and understanding, from both Matthew and us. And though you may have guessed some facts before they're revealed, the gradual payout of crucial information works for this book – a hint that the missing child on Chestnut Close is only the outermost of multiple, nested mysteries. In my non-expert opinion, I feel that Matthew's condition is depicted in a thoughtful and thought-provoking way, and his growth and the development of his relationships with family, friends and neighbors tug on the emotions in a non-cheap, well-earned way.

This was Lisa Thompson's debut novel. In August 2021, its sequel will be released, titled The Graveyard Riddle. Thompson is also the author of the young readers' books The Light Jar, The Day I Was Erased, Owen and the Soldier, The House of Clouds, The Boy Who Fooled the World and The Small Things.

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