Book Review | The Magic Fish by Trung Le Nguyen

Trung Lê Nguyễn
Publication date:
October 13th 2020
Random House Graphic
Received from publisher

If you’re a child of immigrants, and English isn’t your parents’ first language, you may find it difficult to communicate with them. This is especially true for Tiến who is struggling to tell his mother his biggest secret. Besides the language barriers, there are also the cultural barriers and well as the other adults in his life who don’t make it easy for young Tiến. Because Trung Le Nguyen draws on his own experiences growing up as a young queer boy in the 90s in the American Midwest, it gives The story in The Magic Fish an incredibly personal and intimate feel.

However, this is more than just the story of Tiến’s struggling to come out to his Vietnamese mother. Trung Le Nguyen aka Trungles’ The Magic Fish has multiple other stories. There is also the story of Tiến’s mother and how she came to America and her struggle with homesickness, And of course there are the various fairy tales that Tiến reads with his mother that Trungles connects to both of their personal journeys. As someone who grew up reading fairy tales, I love how Trungles adapted popular fairy tales and added his own twist to them. The stories truly come to life as the plot and emotion of these fairy tales show their connections to the events in Tiến’s life and his mother’s life. My favourite example of this would be The Story of Tấm and Cám which is sort of a Cinderella story, I love how the story parallels Tiến’s experience of going to a school dance and dancing with his best friend/crush. I also loved how Alera the heroine of the Tattercoats story shares several similarities to Tiến mother’s as both were separated from their mothers and both were forced leave their homes behind. 

As this is a graphic novel, I was amazed at how the elements of Vietnamese culture including the fashion were incorporated into the stories’ breathtakingly, gorgeous illustrations. Also, I loved how much thought and detail was given to the illustrations, the best example being how Trungles separates the different narratives. He uses different colour inks to differentiate the past from the present and to show when something is taking place within a story in the book. Pink is used to represent the present while gold shows the past and the fairy tales are shown in blue. Of course, as the stories often overlap, the colours in the illustrations follow suit.

Being of Vietnamese background, it would be remiss of me if I did not share that part of The Magic Fish that I resonated with. While I couldn’t relate to everything in this book, there were a few things that stood out to me. I liked how elements of Vietnamese culture were normalize such as the family altar and funeral rites as well packing medicine to bring back to your family when you go back to Vietnam. The other thing that I could definitely relate to were the phone conversations in Vietnamese, as my parents would do this with their siblings in Vietnam when they thought we were fast asleep. Finally, I could absolutely relate to how Tiến and his mother speak to each other in a language that combines both English and Vietnamese words as this is something that my family has always done with each other.

As The Magic Fish is just one book, it obviously can’t be everything for everyone. However, I do believe it’s an important addition to the LGBTQ literary canon, especially for those who are in middle grade and who are children of immigrants who may not be familiar with this topic. As illustrated in the scene where Tiến’s mother changes the ending to one story they’re reading, everyone is worthy of love no matter what, and it is important for queer youth to see characters like themselves get a happy ending.

Comparable Title: Almost American Girl by Robin Ha (Review)




Regardless of how this book came into my possession, the above review consists of my honest opinion of the book and my opinion only.

Recently in Romance #6

 Recently in Romance is a new to this blog review feature where I’ll be sharing my thoughts on some romance novels I’ve read. This review feature was originally created by Mostly Ya Lit.

In a Holidaze by Christina Lauren

In a Holidaze is the book for you if you’re looking for a book to get you into the Christmas spirit. However, if you want a steamy romance, then maybe pick up one of the earlier Christina Lauren books instead. I really want to love this book, but it took way to win me over and even then I wasn’t completely sold on the romance. Fortunately, this book is incredibly light on the romance that it reads more like Womens Fiction. My favourite moments in this book were all the interactions with the various families at the cabin. I love all the crazy traditions they had and loved how competitive everyone got with each other. To be honest, I thought the whole Groundhog Day subplot would be a bigger deal in this book, so I was surprised that there weren’t that many time loops shown. I can appreciate the fact that this allows more space for the main story to develop. Honestly, In a Holidaze wasn’t my favourite Christina Lauren book, though I enjoyed it more than Josh and Hazel’s Guide to Not Dating and The Unhoneymooners. A quick and heartwarming read, this book was a nice distraction that gave me the warm fuzzies. I can definitely see this one appealing to a more younger audience as compared to the previous Christina Lauren books, it is extremely tame in terms of love scenes.

Make Up Break Up by Lily Menon

I’ve enjoyed most of Sandhya Menon’s YA novels, so I was looking forward to reading her adult début as “Lily Menon”! Unfortunately, Make up Break up lacks the charms of her Dimpleverse novels. Perhaps this may because of the third-person narrator that shows readers only Annika’s perspective, but it took an incredibly long time to like the male lead. The physical attraction was there from the start, and it was obvious that Hudson was in love with Annika, but I didn’t see the appeal of him. In fact, it wasn’t until more than halfway into the novel that Hudson showed a more “human” and compassionate side to him that was lacking from all his other previous interactions with Annika. What I enjoyed in Make up Break up was Annika’s close relationship with her father. It was refreshingly imperfect, but I’m glad that they could come to an understanding. Also, I loved her friendship with June, though it made me wish she would depend on those closest to her more when she was so clearly struggling. While the romance was a letdown for me since Annika and Hudson barely had any meaningful interactions until nearly the end, Make up Break up had a few redeeming qualities that made it an okay read.




Regardless of how this book came into my possession, the above reviews consists of my honest opinion of the book and my opinion only.

Midweek Mini Reviews #25

This Midweek Mini Reviews post features a couple of new two very different YA titles!

Have a Little Faith in Me by Sonia Hartl

High school guys can be jerks sometimes. That’s what CeCe in Sonia Hartl’s Have a Little Faith in Me learns when her boyfriend, Ethan, jumps her soon after the two sleep together for the first time. As someone who is not religious I found CeCe’s experience as an “outsider” at a Christian summer camp for teenagers to be interesting. I also appreciate how the story doesn’t waste too much time on CeCe’s original reason for going to the camp which was to try to win back her ex. Instead we get to see her bond with the other girls in her cabin with whom she never thought she’d have anything in common with. I loved the girls of Cabin 8 and seeing how CeCe helps to bring them out of their shell while the girls help CeCe get over her judginess when it comes to others. It was also refreshing to have a YA novel openly call out hypocrites in religion and I liked the way the topic of consent, and how religion deals with sexuality was approached. Finally even though it’s the way the story was set up, I was still rooting for Paul and CeCe because their friendship was heartwarming and the two of them are adorable with the “stories” they tell each other. If you enjoyed Emery Lord’s The Names They Gave Us and/or Firsts by Laurie Elizabeth Flynn then this book is for you.

Our Wayward Fate by Gloria Chao
Gloria Chao has truly come into her own as a writer with her sophomore novel. Our Wayward Fate, not only looks at the what it’s like growing up as a child of immigrants in a place where no one looks like you, but it does so by incorporating elements of the Chinese legend, The Butterfly Lovers in to her story. This mostly works well, although I initially disliked the sections that contained Chao’s twist on the legend as it took time away from Allie’s story which I found more compelling. I connected with many of Allie’s frustrations as I also grew up with a mostly white town. Like Allie, every time there was a Chinese kid my age, I was often paired with them, despite the fact that I’m not even Chinese. That being said, I did like Chase and Allie’s relationship as it was adorable how they bonded over their many similarities. However, I felt that their transition into being a couple was rushed at the start as the pacing was super-fast after Chase’s arrival since everything just starts blowing up socially all at once for Allie. Fortunately their romantic relationship gets more fleshed out with time. I also liked the direction the author took with Allie and Yun and what the two of them together with Chase end up doing in the end. Finally, I appreciated how Allie was able to grow and realized that while many in her small town are racist, she is not guiltless when it comes to having stereotypes about other people either.




Regardless of how this book came into my possession, the above reviews consists of my honest opinion of the book and my opinion only.