The Magic Fish, written by Trung Le Nguyen, is a beautiful graphic novel about Tiến and his mother, a Vietnamese refugee. Tiến wants to come out to his parents as gay, but he doesn't know how to do that when he doesn't know the right word in Vietnamese. The Magic Fish offers a touching story about cross-cultural understanding and the power of love and acceptance for middle years students and beyond.
The book is also an immigrant story. While many books about refugees focus on the upheaval and dislocation of leaving a home that is no longer safe, this one takes place long after. Tiến's mother has built a happy life in her new country, but still must navigate many cultural differences. After being so long away from Vietnam, she feels distanced from her mother and other family. At one point, she says, "My past and present selves speak two different languages. It feels like I died on that boat. And I'm still stuck in the middle of the ocean. Far away from my mother... and far away from my son." She feels like she is from a different world than Tiến and yearns to bridge the gap between them.
The Magic Fish is also about stories, which can bring us together in a shared experience and anchor us. A common thread in the book are the fairy tales that Tiến and his mother read together. The author picks European and Vietnamese stories to retell, and the images he uses are expressed through different characters' visual imaginations. The results are stunning. Particularly noteworthy is Tiến's mother's reimagining of the often tragic "The Little Mermaid" into an expression of love and support for her son. Simply put, this is a gorgeous book about the power of stories to transcend differences and bring us together.