David Wiesner & Donna Jo Napoli
Clarion, 2017 186 pages
An unnamed aquatic girl lives in a tank at a cheesy boardwalk attraction. The owner of Ocean Wonders is Neptune, god of seas and storms. Everyday folks come in to see the legendary "Fish Girl", trying to catch glimpses of her as she flashes by. Meanwhile, Neptune sells t-shirts and mystery as he drums up business in his failing enterprise. At night after Neptune has Fish Girl retrieve the coins thrown into the tank by the day's patrons he tells her stories about her past and her family, of which she cannot remember. The monotony is broken by a girl named Livia, who slowly becomes the fish girl's first human friend. Livia names her Mira, short for "Miracle" and the two start to trust each other, forming a bond and exchanging presents. Because of this new friendship, Mira begins to gain confidence and question her life and the hold Neptune has over her. She finds the courage to leave the tank, eventually discovering that her tail can turn into legs once she is out of the water. Further discovery reveals that Neptune is not who he says he is and the operation is not as honest as Mira has been led to believe. Finally Mira must make a decision about her future and find the strength to take on Neptune and secure freedom for her self and her aquatic friends, also held prisoner at Ocean Wonders.
It is a natural progression for three-time Caldecott winning Superstar David Wiesner to turn to drawing graphic novels. My only question is: why hasn't he done it sooner? And then when you add veteran fairy tale and folklorist Donna Jo Napoli to the mix, a new graphic novel classical is sure to be born. On its own this is a great story. It has fairy tale elements, while remaining realistic, appealing to the Raina Telgemeier crowd. At its core, Fish Girl is a friendship tale with a main character who must tap into her inner strength, which will appeal to a wide audience. The mermaid element will draw in those fans, of whom are numerous and will eat this book up with a spoon. The illustrations are predictably excellent and help to move the story along, adding to the plot and not simply enhancing. The book is in full color and is a little larger than normal graphic novel size, feeling like half-way between a picture book and a comic book. There are messages here about greed, corruption, the power of friendship, and finding your strength, but the real star is the fairy tale put into a modern context, resulting in a story that is both fresh and original. A sure-fire winner by two experts in the field of children's literature.