I am writing this as I wait for a 9.15 bus to get me to town at 10.25 for my 12 o’clock shift. For those of you living in cities and complaining about public transport…just don’t, OK? OK. The fact of the matter is, I was supposed to write this yesterday but I was every single kind of tired you could possibly imagine. And Miss Hannah Moskowitz deserves nothing but 100% when talking about her work.
To start off, how many of you reading this can name a stand-alone YA novel? I’ll give you a minute.
I could only think of one, and that was Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell, which I had the pleasure of reading only a week ago. There may be others, but my point is that the current trend in YA fiction is for series, not one-off books. I have picked up so many books, looked them over, and flicked through the pages only to discover that it is part of a series. There is very little more frustrating than that.
Don’t get me wrong, my favourite books are all part of the same series. I love the depth an author can find when writing.multiple books in the same universe. Mead, Clare, and Rowling are all prime examples of that. But sometimes, I want to know that authors are capable of getting across everything they need to in just the one volume. When I finally (hopefully) become a writer, I’d like to think that I could write multiple stand alone novels. I’d like to think my imagination is that hyperactive.
Hannah Moskowitz’s is. In the very best possible way. Once I thought I had finished Teeth, I found that Moskowitz’s publisher managed to sneak excerpts from her other three novels into the final pages. Now that’s advertising. Once I get to the end of an incredible book, I itch for more more more. Moskowitz gave me a taste and so, naturally, I have already added all three of her other novels to my TBR list. And not one of them relate to any of the others.
The premise of this story is a childish one: imagine there are magical fish with healing properties for all who eat them. This could have easily been a children’s picture book, but Moskowitz made it gritty, dark, and real. These fish only live on one island and so the miniscule population of that island consists of families suffering from terminal illnesses, hoping for relief.
The overall impression I got from this book was grey. Grey sky, grey water, grey fish, grey people. And a grey mood that settles over everything.
Rudy, our protagonist, and his family travel to the island for the youngest son, Dylan who suffers from cystic fibrosis. It is horrible. Terrifying. Moskowitz captures the fear and tension of this family perfectly. But most importantly, she captures their humanity. The mother and father pick fights over insignificant things constantly, for normalcy, and Rudy…well, he’s just trying to be a teenage boy.
During his stay on this magical island, Rudy befriends a fishboy named Teeth. It is exactly what it sounds like: Teeth is half teenage boy and half magical fish. His story is so appalling that you can’t help but turn page after page. Rudy is drawn to him because he is an escape from his family. This is what I love about Rudy: he loves and cares for his brother, but he needs time away. Craves it. He worries that he doesn’t love his brother enough, and worries about the moments he actually completely forgets Dylan, but it is this worry that lets us forgive Rudy his selfishness.
Who can blame him for being a little selfish to keep his sanity?
This book explores the nature of relationships under duress. Parents and children, friends, neighbours, humans and nature. Moskowitz tackles each relationship in such a casual, beautiful way that you don’t even realise she’s making a statement. Not until the book’s been put away and you think about it later.
The relationship I found most interesting was the Teeth-and-Rudy relationship. It reminded me so much of the Sherlock-and-John relationship; what I like to call friendship+. They are more than friends but not quite lovers. Rudy and Teeth take turns saving each other from the dangers in their lives, while taking pleasure in the company and contact of another person their own age. It is never actually explained whether Rudy was in love with Teeth, but that was a minor detail. They were brothers-in-arms. An army of two. Who cares if they were in love, when it was clear that they loved each other, anyway?
“I fall for fish instead of girls.”
Sexuality isn’t really talked about. Not overtly. Rudy is a man-slut. Or he was, on the mainland. On the magic island he only has two relationships outside of his family: Teeth and Diana. The two other teenagers. Diana and Rudy have a very shallow relationship. He craves human contact and books to read, and she gives him both. They don’t speak about anything real. They simply chat, kiss, and read. It’s Teeth that Rudy has a deeper connection to. We get flashes of the possibility of a romantic relationship, but they come to nothing. Moskowitz simply plants ideas in our heads to do with what we will. Besides, the two boys look after each other. Just like Sherlock and John.
“…just when I think he’s about to crack and say the three words I don’t know how to deal with, he whispers “I hate humans”, and he’s crying as hard as I’ve ever seen.
And I feel everything.”
Teeth was such a vivid character, brought to life by sparkling dialogue. He was taught basic English as a child (how? Nope. Spoilers.) and picked up everything else as he watched the islanders. He had gaps in knowledge, which he covers with an oh-so-casual “whatever”. Rudy knows what he means, though. He always knows. Teeth never feels like an ignorant character. Moskowitz lets Teeth’s intelligence seep into his stilted conversation. She is a master of characterisation.
I want to talk about every aspect of this book, but doing so will take away the unique appeal of this story. I have not come across a story like this, and I doubt I will again. So I will keep the main plot a secret, just to motivate you all to read this book. It is quality YA with a darkness not usually seen in teenage fiction.