“At primary school when people tried to find friends, I tried to find space that my imagine could fill with whatever it wanted, nearly always butterflies because to me they were perfection, like real-life fairies with prettier wings.”
Tess has always been different – she never fit in, and she has always been okay with that. She spent a good deal of time by herself while growing up, rather than with other kids, because she never really felt like she belonged. Her dad, Jack, always told her to try her hardest to fit in and make friends, because that’s what you’re supposed to do. In fact, he was always telling her what he expected of her and what she was supposed to do and be like – and Tess, being the dutiful, good daughter, always tried her hardest to make him happy and be the child he wanted.
However, one day, when Tess is looking at her father’s computer, she comes across a blog post from him saying how he found it difficult to love Tess when she was a baby, because she wasn’t his biological daughter. Hurt and confused, Tess tries to make sense of what she reads. The man who raised her wasn’t her father? And then things start to make sense to Tess: both of her parents have blue eyes – so how did she get brown eyes? Many of her father’s traits and features were unlike anything she herself possessed – so she wonders how she could have missed this her entire life.
After discovering this, Tess makes plans to run away – she stops at a convenience store and picks up some essentials, along with a goldfish flashlight (who will later become her confidant and best friend).
Faced with the knowledge of this, coupled with the fact that she is incredibly unpopular at school and is often made fun of – called “Man Skull” by her peers, Tess decides to take a stand – she simply stops speaking one night when she is supposed to be in a play with Jack. While everyone keeps trying to figure out why Tess refuses to speak, Tess simply does not know how to even begin telling everyone what she feels. She is hurt, she is angry, and most of all, she has been lied to all her life.
When Tess is silent and not speaking to anyone else, she is talking to her goldfish flashlight in her head (and he offers her advice and reassurance when things get bad). The longer that Tess doesn’t speak, the more concerned everyone around her gets – her teachers, her friend at school, and her family.
“No one seems to understand that it’s a choice. I could speak right now if I really wanted to, stand up in the middle of the restaurant and open my mouth to let out a blizzard.”
Tess is convinced that she can start speaking again whenever she wants to, but as time goes on, it becomes harder and harder for her, until she no longer tries.
However, when she is getting blackmailed in school by a teacher, who is using her silence against her to be unfaithful to his wife, Tess starts to wonder if she’s truly had enough. If she doesn’t take a stand for herself, he will keep walking all over her, accusing her of doing things she didn’t do, lying, etc., and Tess knows she must stand up for herself eventually.
“You might not be a lion, Tess. That’s fine. Neither am I. But we’re still cats, aren’t we? Just because we don’t roar, doesn’t mean we have to be silent.”
Armed with that bit of advice from her grandmother, Tess begins to wonder if it’s possible to fix things before they go any further, and confront the man who has lied to her about who she is.
I absolutely loved this book. I found it heartbreaking and painful to read at times, especially with how cruel the kids in school were to Tess. They were pretty much relentless, and since Tess didn’t talk much, it was really difficult for her to stand up for herself. Also, her best friend kind of abandoned her at her time of need (even if she did lie about her existence), not only ignoring her but becoming fake friends with someone else and flaunting that friendship in Tess’s face every chance she got. Needless to say, I really disliked her character, and I felt like Tess could have done a lot better.
The whole thing with Tess and her talking goldfish flashlight made the entire book so different and fun to read. I found myself laughing at quite a few spots, and I loved the banter that occurred between the two. I mean, seriously…a talking goldfish flashlight? How can you not want to read this book, just to check out how that ends up working itself into the story? It’s such a great concept – Tess found comfort in that flashlight at a time when she felt most alone, and it’s so easy to feel connected to it, as well. Tess’s character was so well written – I felt like I was really getting inside her head and living this along with her.
This book tried to tackle a few really difficult situations in one book, and add a bit of humor and light-heartedness to it, and it worked out wonderfully.
Silence is Goldfish is such a wonderful book – fun to read, and it left a really deep impact on me. It was powerful and enjoyable, and it brings forth what it really means to be a family and discover your voice.