Wednesday, August 02, 2017

Middle-Grade Review: The Goldfish Boy

I have been hearing lots of good reviews of The Goldfish Boy by Lisa Thompson, a middle-grade novel, since its release in February (I am always a bit behind!). I finally had a chance to listen to the audio book in June, and I really enjoyed this British novel with its unique blend of mystery and real-life insights into a poorly understood condition.

Matthew Corbin has obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and hasn’t been to school in weeks. He stays in his house – and lately in his own bedroom – with his fears of germs and his obsessive cleaning holding him captive in an environment he can sort of control. Matthew’s not bored, though. Besides his daily cleaning tasks, Matthew watches all the activity in his neighborhood from his windows and takes meticulous notes.

As the novel opens, Matthew watches and takes notes as his elderly, grumpy neighbor, Mr. Charles, is tending to his garden, Penny and Gordon Sullivan are going out for their weekly grocery shopping, Hannah and Rory Jenkins (Mr. Jenkins teaches PE at Matthew’s school) are preparing for their new baby, and Melody Byrd, a girl he knows from school who lives with her mum, is walking her dachshund, Frankie. Old Nina, the vicar’s widow who lives in the old rectory, rarely comes out, but Matthew can sometimes catch a glimpse of her, too.

Something new is happening in the neighborhood on this day: Mr. Charles’ grandchildren have come to visit, and Matthew observes as his daughter drops them off. He watches the children play in the garden over the next few days. The little girl, Casey, carries an antique-looking doll with her and isn’t very nice to her toddler brother, Teddy. At one point, Casey notices Matthew watching from his window and begins calling him Goldfish Boy because he is always behind the glass.

One day, Teddy goes missing, and Matthew was the last one to see him. He saw him playing with rose petals in the front garden, and five minutes later, he was just gone – vanished without a trace. All the neighbors join in a search, and when that fails, the police are brought in. Matthew’s entire neighborhood is upset and trying to find Teddy, but Matthew is uniquely qualified to solve this mystery because of his keen and constant observations. The urgency of the situation even draws Matthew out a bit.

Melody reaches out to Matthew through e-mail and joins him in his investigation. Much of the novel unfolds as any mystery novel would – with the two amateur detectives following clues, coming up with theories, and trying to solve the crime. However, Matthew’s OCD is present constantly and actually seems to be worsening. As his mother begins taking him to therapy and Matthew continues writing in his notebooks, the reader very gradually begins to understand exactly how Matthew’s problems started and what is the main issue behind his behavior, feelings that he has buried for a long time.

Despite its serious subject matter (both the apparent kidnapping of a toddler and Matthew’s severe OCD), the tone of the novel remains fairly light and amusing. Matthew’s condition is explained and explored in a very matter-of-fact way, and Melody’s acceptance of him and her sharing of her own secrets helps him to open up and develop a friendship with her. The mystery itself is a good one, with plenty of plot twists and red herrings, as Matthew chases one clue after another. I thoroughly enjoyed this insightful and entertaining novel with plenty of suspense that was excellent on audio.

320 pages, Scholastic

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You can listen to a sample of the audio free from Audible.

Goldfish Boy
by Lisa ThompsonHardcover

 Or you can purchase The Goldfish Boy from Northshire Bookstore in Manchester, VT:

Or you can purchase The Goldfish Boy from Book Depository.


  1. I'm so glad to hear of good middle-grade books that deal with issues kids are living with. And to hear that they are compelling books is even better.

    1. Yes, that is this book exactly, Helen! Kids will be learning about a medical condition and gaining compassion for others who are different without even realizing it because the mystery is so engaging!

  2. That book was fantastic.