My Life in the Fish Tank

S. & S./Aladdin. Sept. 2020. 320p. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781534432338.
Gr 4-6–Dee offers a novel that depicts a family impacted by mental illness. Twelve year-old Zinny’s life is dramatically changed by her oldest brother Gabriel’s hospitalization and treatment for bipolar disorder. Mom and Dad seem to spend most of their days visiting him and fighting with insurance companies. Not only are Zinny’s parents absent, leaving her and two other siblings to fend for themselves, but she is expected to keep Gabriel’s diagnosis and situation private. With the help of her science teacher Ms. Molina, a guidance counselor who invites her to a lunch club for others with family challenges, and a family therapist, Zinny finally begins to open up. This book raises awareness of bipolar disorder and how it can affect a family dynamic. Zinny describes memories of Gabriel’s manic behavior, and it is later implied that Gabriel crashed his roommate’s car as an act of self-harm. However, this book does not attempt to understand what happens in Gabriel’s mind. It does not explore Gabriel’s feelings about what he and/or his family are experiencing. It could have been more valuable if the narration had shifted points of view between characters and included Gabriel’s, or even centered Gabriel’s perspective.
VERDICT This book has value in describing the impact that a family member’s mental illness can have on their loved ones. For larger collections and fans of Tae Keller’s The Science of Breakable Things and Cindy Baldwin’s Where the Watermelons Grow.

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