Review: Life in a Fishbowl by Len Vlahos

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Title: Life in a Fishbowl
Len Vlahos
Bloomsbury Children’s
UK Release Date:
12th January 2017
Young Adult, Contemporary
Borrowed from a friend

Goodreads | Amazon | The Book Depository

Fifteen-year-old Jackie Stone is a prisoner in her own house. Everything she says and does 24/7 is being taped and broadcast to every television in America. Why? Because her dad is dying of a brain tumor and he has auctioned his life on eBay to the highest bidder: a ruthless TV reality show executive at ATN.

Gone is her mom’s attention and cooking and parent-teacher conferences. Gone is her sister’s trust ever since she’s been dazzled by the cameras and new-found infamy. Gone is her privacy. Gone is the whole family’s dignity as ATN twists their words and makes a public mockery of their lives on Life and Death. But most of all, Jackie fears that one day very soon her father will just be . . . gone. Armed only with her ingenuity and the power of the internet, Jackie is determined to end the show and reclaim all of their lives, even in death.

Told through multiple points of view–including her dad’s tumor–acclaimed author Len Vlahos deftly explores what it really means to live in this brilliantly written tragicomedy.

I hadn’t heard anything about this book when one of my friends offered to lend it to me, which I was quite surprised about as I thought I knew a lot about upcoming releases from the bookish community on Twitter. I was even more surprised once I’d had a look at the book on Goodreads, as it’s such an interesting blurb, and once I’d done my research I was very keen to get started.

The book definitely wasn’t what I was expecting, as there was a fairly long build up to their lives being turned into a TV series (obviously a proof edition isn’t necessarily the same page-length wise, but it was about 100 pages in the proof copy I read), and I did find it a little on the slow side at first. However, it definitely picked up after this point, and the end was very fast-paced and intense. The split perspective (but always third person) narrative also helped to keep the pace up, but it wasn’t too hard to follow, even though it switched perspective fairly frequently. Something I’ve not seen done before is telling the story from the perspective of the tumour, so I found it really interesting to see an interpretation of what an anthropomorphised tumour would be like.

One of the most distinctive things about this book for me was definitely the characters. I thought that they all had very strong personality traits, and I was really struck by the strong emotional reactions they evoked in me. I absolutely loathed Ethan Overbee by the end of the novel – every time I thought he’d hit a new low, he’d do something else to make me hate him (although I did feel almost sorry for him at some points) – and I absolutely loved Max, as he was rather sweet and overall probably my favourite character. I thought the way the characters developed over the novel was also very interesting; in particular for me were Megan and Hazel. I would have been interested to see more of Sherman Kingsborough towards the second half of the book as well, as I felt like he was significant to the first half, so it was quite unexpected when he only reappeared again in one small reference at the end, and it felt a tad like he was forgotten.

There were lots of themes within the book, and I thought many of them contrasted – after all, a big focus of the novel was the fact that Jared had cancer (and the ending was utterly heartbreaking), and this was very different from more humorous aspects, such as the character of the nun. Overall, I think my favourite theme was the power of the internet, as it showed how much the characters could achieve over the internet, and how the internet could aid and enrich their lives. This was rather refreshing, as quite a few books give a more negative view of the internet, so I really appreciated that within Life in a Fishbowl.

Overall, I thought that Life in a Fishbowl was a very interesting read. It was funny yet touching, and had a firm pull on my emotions throughout, whether that was making me feel strongly about a character, or making me laugh or feel sad about the latest turn of events. The idea was unique, the plot clever, and the ending rounded the book off perfectly.



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