From the Publisher
A lovely, understated book that celebrates the possibility of a kind and humane friendship between an eighth-grade girl and boy...this novel is also an ode to the significance of reading in the lives of young people and to a teacher who knows the power literature can wield. Unique and original, believable and poignant, this is a book with power of its own.
—The Horn Book (starred review)
Readers seeking emotional warmth, congenial humor, and an affirmation of forgiveness and friendship will cozy up to these characters.
—Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books (starred review)
Despite the weighty problems the characters face-grief, alcoholism, and bullying among them-Bluefish is a lively, often-humorous, and ultimately hopeful page-turner. It has all the hallmarks of a classic contemporary young adult issues novel. It's packed with memorable and believable characters and powered by the prospect of redemption and just a hint of romance.
—School Library Journal (starred review)
Children's Literature - Naomi Milliner
Travis is a lot of things: an eighth grader at a new school; an orphan living with his crotchety alcoholic grandpa; a boy mourning the loss of a beloved dog; and a self-proclaimed "bluefish" (a derogatory term based on a Dr. Seuss character). Travis is also the keeper of a big secret which is revealed halfway through the bookhe cannot read. Two other pivotal characters also have secrets: Grandpa and a sassy, precocious girl known as Velveeta. On the surface, vivacious Velveeta and troubled, tongue-tied Travis share little in common; however, both have experienced, and are trying to cope with, significant loss. Over the course of the story, their fledgling friendship is as dizzying as a rollercoaster, but ultimately delivers a satisfying ride. The narrative technique Schmatz employs is unusual but effective: the chapters alternate between third person Travis and short, first-person Velveeta passages. Both characters are well-drawn, and Velveeta is as memorable and original as her name. Although the themes of loss and secrets are a bit heavy-handed, Travis' journey to literacy is an interesting and rewarding one. In addition, both Travis and Velveeta learn that, even though their loved ones have died, nothing can undo the significance they had, or continue to have, in their lives. This powerful, reassuring message of hope is reason enough to recommend this book. Reviewer: Naomi Milliner
School Library Journal
Gr 7–9—Eighth-grader Travis, tall and quiet, is beginning his first year in a new school. When he helps out a student being bullied, this rare act of middle-school kindness impresses an unusual, witty, and talkative girl named Vida—or Velveeta, as she prefers to be called. She befriends the strong-but-silent newcomer and tries to plumb his mysterious depths—and maybe grub a free dessert or two during lunch. Velveeta and Travis have the same reading class, where compassionate Mr. McQueen quickly recognizes that Travis has a serious reading deficit and suggests that he visit him for extra tutoring. Velveeta soon guesses what Travis is doing in these early-morning sessions and offers to help him. Eventually, he reluctantly agrees. But Travis's reading problem is only one of the deeper secrets that this unlikely pair will gradually begin to share. Despite the weighty problems the characters face—grief, alcoholism, and bullying among them—Bluefish is a lively, often-humorous, and ultimately hopeful page-turner. It has all the hallmarks of a classic contemporary young adult issues novel. It's packed with memorable and believable characters and powered by the prospect of redemption and just a hint of romance.—Jeffrey Hastings, Highlander Way Middle School, Howell, MI
School Library Journal - Audio
Gr 7–9—Travis is forced to move with his grandfather from the small Wisconsin town that is the only home he has ever known. On top of that, his pet dog has disappeared and his alcoholic grandpa insists they move immediately, leaving the dog behind. Travis has always struggled with schoolwork and has a difficult time talking to anyone. At his new middle school, he meets feisty, funky classmate Velveeta and a determined teacher who realizes that Travis has a learning disability and is much more than just a stupid "bluefish." Pat Schmatz's novel (Candlewick, 2011) is brought to life by Luke Daniels and Kate Rudd. Daniels captures Travis's sweet, shy demeanor with his deliberate speech pattern and has listeners cheering him on from the beginning. His gruff voicing of Travis's grandpa is perfect as well. Kate Rudd narrates the Velveeta passages that are in the form of letters to her dead neighbor and mentor. Rudd's sarcastic tone mixed with just the right amount of sympathy makes Velveeta a real person. Filled with believable characters, this novel will capture the hearts of middle school listeners.—Shari Fesko, Southfield Public Library, MI
A young teen loner graduallylearns to acceptthe friendship of an outspoken girl in thisproblem novel filled with likable, idiosyncratic characters.
Travis is filled with sullen resentment toward his recovering alcoholic grandfather, who moved them away from their old house despite Travis's devastation having to leave behind his lost dog, Rosco. At his new school, Travis is surprised to land on the radar of confident, kindVelveeta, and he increasingly looks forward to her friendly overtures each day, even as he worries that she might discover a secret of which he's deeply ashamed.In the meantime, Velveeta struggleswith familytrouble of herown and with the loss of a dear friend. A cast of richly developed characters peoples this work of contemporary fiction, told in the third person from Travis' point of view, with first-person vignettes from Velveeta's perspective peppered throughout. An ongoing reference to Markus Zusak's The Book Thief (2006) serves the themes of this novel well. Both teens have adults outside of their families whom they are able to trust, but at times these adults feel a little too heart-of-goldidealized—sadly, it's somehow hard to picture a public librarian actually givinga key to the building to a kid whose home isn't a safe place. Fortunately, these clichéd moments are brief.
A story rife with unusual honesty andhope. (Fiction. 12-16)