The Magic Fish

Written and Illustrated by Trung Le Nguyen

Tiến has a difficult time communicating with his parents, immigrants from Vietnam to America who struggle with English, while he doesn’t know much Vietnamese. In particular, Tiến doesn’t have the words in Vietnamese to begin to tell his parents something he is learning about himself, that he is gay. Tiến’s mother is herself troubled by her distance and disconnection from her mother (who is sick) back in Vietnam. Tiến and his mother read library books together, mostly fairy tales, so that his parents can practice their English. It is through sharing these fairy tales, interwoven in their colors and variations with Tiến’s contemporary story at home and school, that Tiến is able to connect and communicate with his mother, and his mother is also able to reconnect with her past in Vietnam.

This is one of the best graphic novels I have ever read; it features a meticulous level of artistic craft placed completely into the service of a fully-realized, powerful story. This is a deeply personal story that only this author could ever tell, but it can resonate with so many different young readers. Whether or not readers share with these characters a family immigration experience, a coming out experience, a religious school experience, or other details specific to the story, all can identify with the struggles at child-parent communication and connection explored in the story. The fairy tales also stand as beautiful, immersive tellings on their own, but provide so much more feeling and meaning in connection with the story of Tiến’s family. Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Joshua Whiting, Library Media Program, Educational Technology Department
Review shared in April 2021
Rating: ★★★★★ (5 stars)
Interest Level: Grades 7 and up

Author/Illustrator Website:

The Magic Fish
Written and Illustrated by Trung Le Nguyen
RH Graphic
229 pages
Release Date: October 13, 2020
ISBN: 9780593125298 (hardcover) / 9781984851598 (paperback)

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