Winner of The Text Prize for Young Adult and Children’s Writing, 2013.
Tom survived a devastating flood that claimed the lives of her sister and parents. Now she lives with Bill in his old shed by the lake. But it’s time to move out. Tom is pregnant.
Diana Sweeney’s young protagonist is tougher than we might expect. The Minnow shows us not only what Tom has lost. Equally important is what she has held onto, and the quiet but intense ways in which she thrives.
In her longing for what is lost, Tom talks to fish: Oscar the carp in the pet shop, little Sarah catfish who might be her sister, an unhelpful turtle in a tank at the maternity ward. And the Minnow.
Diana Sweeney is a university lecturer and fashion model. The Minnow is her first novel. She was born in Auckland, and now lives in New South Wales.
Like most Goodreads users who left a review for this YA book, I was super intrigued by the cover, which I though was mighty beautiful, and I also peeped at the archive date (on NetGalley, where I got it from – available under the Read Now section) and since I saw it was set for March 31st, I thought “Why not now?” So I transferred the book to my Nook and I started reading it. And I just couldn’t put it down! I did read it over 3 days or so, but the book did not leave my mind even for a bit over those 3 days. It was an incredible experience!
You might wonder why I liked it so much… Well, it’s beautifully written, first of all. The prose is just amazing, for a debut novel. It’s quite simple, but very touching. Diana Sweeney knows how to use the minimum amount of words to express the deepest of heartaches. She is an intuitive writer and I believe she does not create her characters, but rather lets them be born and evolve alongside her. She and her characters grow together, and it’s such a wonderful sight to behold. Secondly, the themes touched upon in this book are as serious and painful as they can get: death, loss, regret, confusion, frustration, heartache. Tom, who is a girl FYI, lost her parents and her little sister, Sarah, in a great flood that almost destroyed her town. Half of the town’s population either died or was never found in the aftermath. Tom is taken in by one of her father’s old friends, Bill, a very shady character, who discovers she’s a girl a long time after they’ve started living together. So… he sleeps with her. Tom says it just happened, but the truth is somewhere in between. Tom, who is only 14-15 at the time, is also pretty confused about it. And… this is where my problems with this novel come in.
On Goodreads and on NetGalley I gave it only 3, 3.5 stars and let me explain my rating. Although it is a beautifully written book, chronologically speaking I thought it was quite a mess. We are taken back and forth between various moments in the past, which are Tom’s flashbacks from her old life, and life in the present, which is also presented in bits and pieces. At least that’s what I thought. Of course, the prose is supposed to NOT be simple, but all that back and forth made my mind ache a little bit. It was just too much sometimes. And, yeah, I’m not ashamed to admit that there were things I did not understand, like: why does not Tom do something about Bill’s abuse, why is she so strong for a 14 year-old girl whose parents and sister died and who is currently pregnant as a result of a possibly-maybe rape, why is she so damn mature for her age? I know tragedies tend to change people, especially children, but this seemed a bit too much. In fiction, Tom is such a wonderful character, she is tough, she is smart and she does not panic easily, but in reality…? Anyway, I took it all with a pinch of salt and as a nice piece of fiction writing and, overall, I was more than glad I got the chance to read this novel for free. *Thanks, NetGalley!* 😀
Since I definitely don’t want to end this review on a negative note, let me tell you what I also loved about this novel. I really enjoyed the other characters! Tom’s Nana is a fascinating woman, who has had an equally fascinating life. Jonathan, a man also in his eighties, former lawyer, who is in love with Tom’s Nana, is a very warm and supportive character and I felt all throughout the novel that he was the most “normal” person in town. Jonah, his grandson, whose parents also died in the flood, is very mature and supportive of Tom (considering she’s pregnant and everything). And the other old people at the home for the elderly where Tom’s Nana is staying are also very funny and welcoming and endearing. I loved the whole bunch!
All in all, it was a good book and I don’t regret any second of the time I spent reading it. Nevertheless, I must admit it could have been better, especially how Tom’s pregnancy was dealt with. I did not feel satisfied with the result. Like, at all! BONUS: the novel has a small paranormal twist to it and you’ll just love it (probably. maybe. yes. perhaps.). 😀 I know I did. Tom has certain… powers. And instead of diminishing the effects of the book on the reader, they just add to it to make it even more evocative, melancholy and simply beautiful.