The Minnow by Diana Sweeney

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Tom survived a devastating flood that claimed the lives of her sister and parents. Now she lives with Bill in his old shed by the lake. But it’s time to move out—Tom is pregnant with Bill’s baby.

Jonah lets her move in with him. Mrs Peck gives her the Fishmaster Super Series tackle box. Nana is full of gentle good advice and useful sayings.

And in her longing for what is lost, Tom talks to fish: Oscar the carp in the pet shop, little Sarah catfish who might be her sister, an unhelpful turtle in a tank at the maternity ward. And the minnow.

A novel very unlike anything else I have read, both incredibly beautiful and incredibly sad. Tom has an innocence that is both lovely and heart-wrenching. So many tragic things befall her (losing her family in a flood is only the beginning), it's amazing that the story manages to be uplifting, in the end. Tom is a character with whom I sympathised, and I loved that she spoke to fish (it reminded me a little of Big Fish, the poignancy of it, or the surrealness, or maybe the use of fish as metaphors, or all three. That was my favourite film when I was ten. I must have watched it a hundred times). Her grandmother is the sweetest, and so is Jonah. Mrs Peck is horrendous, but Bill is most horrendous of all. The town itself is beautifully drawn and distinctly Australian, but still with a sense of being disconnected from the rest of the world (likely due to Tom's perspective).

It's authentic despite the surreal aspects, but if you come to this novel expecting standard contemporary YA, you'll be disappointed. It doesn't moralise or offer life lessons or clearly explain particular situations (many, many details remain vague, like those of the flood or how Tom came to live with Bill). The plot is not clear or neat. The voice of Tom and her journey are compelling enough. It reminded me of As Stars Fall by Christie Nieman, which was published around the same time and has a similar slow-burning moody atmosphere and surreal aspects expertly weaved into a realistic story.

The Minnow is original and unconventional and exquisitely written and heart-breaking/mending. It tackles huge, difficult events with aplomb and subtlety. This is, again, one of those novels that should hardly be limited to teenage readers. I think many adults will enjoy this, even those that don't fancy themselves as readers of YA.

The Minnow on the publisher's website
Proudly designed by Mlekoshi playground