May 24, 2016


by David Vann

Caitlin lives alone with her mother in poor housing near the docks in Seattle. They have just enough to get by. Instead of paying for after-school care, her mom buys her a yearly pass to the aquarium. I loved this aspect of the book- twelve-year-old Caitlin is enthralled by the fish and other marine creatures she sees everyday. She dreams of being an ichthyologist when she grows up, and interprets everyday visuals in terms of fish behavior, the boundaries of rooms as aquarium walls or the ceiling of the sky an ocean surface. It was a really interesting perspective. Reading a book set in Seattle engaged me as well- I recognize the places and atmosphere (though I disagree with the weather assessment- it does not actually rain every day).

But the story turns dark. Caitlin meets an elderly man at the aquarium who also seems interested in fish and gradually becomes her friend. She wants to introduce him to her mother, and is shocked by the violent reaction this triggers. The encounter unearths secrets and deep resentment from her mother's past. It was hard to read the second half of the book. I really did not like the way Caitlin's mother tried to force her daughter to relive her own miserable past. Really disturbing. Considering the depth of emotional trauma, the ending seemed wrapped up pretty quickly, how this family resolved their issues. And there's a secondary theme going on at the same time- Caitlin's growing attraction to a classmate who is also her best friend and a girl. Her mother's recovery from the shock of finding this out also seemed way too quick. I could have easily read a few more chapters exploring how they really went through the healing process and worked out new family dynamics.

While I really like the way the author uses words to create unfamiliary, vivid imagery, I'm not sure if I want to read more of his books. A glance at a few more reviews tells me most of his books have dark themes. I borrowed this book from the public library.

Rating: 3/5       266 pages, 2015

more opinions:
Bermudaonion's Weblog
Bibliophile by the Sea
Leeswammes' Blog


  1. I'm beginning to think I like dark books after finding a few recent reads too sweet. I liked this book a lot more than you did.

  2. My friend Alice was absolutely wild about this book, so I got it out of the library and gave it a try last year. Just not at all my thing -- it was way dark, and in a way that was notably not enjoyable to read, and I DNFed it.


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