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Life in a Fishbowl

Life in a Fishbowl

3.5 2
by Len Vlahos

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Fifteen-year-old Jackie Stone's father is dying.

When Jackie discovers that her father has been diagnosed with a terminal brain tumor, her whole world starts to crumble. She can't imagine how she'll live without him . . .

Then, in a desperate act to secure his family's future, Jackie's father does the unthinkable--he puts his life up for


Fifteen-year-old Jackie Stone's father is dying.

When Jackie discovers that her father has been diagnosed with a terminal brain tumor, her whole world starts to crumble. She can't imagine how she'll live without him . . .

Then, in a desperate act to secure his family's future, Jackie's father does the unthinkable--he puts his life up for auction on eBay. Jackie can do nothing but watch and wait as an odd assortment of bidders, some with nefarious intentions, drive the price up higher. The fate of her entire family hangs in the balance.

But no one can predict how the auction will finally end, or any of the very public fallout that ensues. Life as Jackie knows it is about to change forever . . .

In this brilliantly written tragicomedy told through multiple points of view--including Jackie's dad's tumor--acclaimed author Len Vlahos deftly explores what it really means to live.

"A weird, sardonic delight with the shape of an allegory and the heart of a joyful song."
--Brenna Yovanoff, New York Times bestselling author of The Replacement

"Surprising, original, political, and deeply affecting . . . It is one of those rare works of art that keeps you guessing up to the very last page."
--Leila Sales, author of This Song Will Save Your Life

"It will tear you apart, and yet it's an absolute joy."
--Adi Alsaid, author of Let's Get Lost and Never, Always, Sometimes

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
★ 10/31/2016
With wry humor and blunt honesty, Vlahos (The Scar Boys) unspools the story of a family whose father signs them up for a reality show after being diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. Written in third-person, the novel rotates frequently among several characters, including 15-year-old Jackie Stone, the eldest daughter in the family; father Jared, who wants to ensure that his family is taken care of after his death; Ethan Overbee, a shrewd television executive who hopes to capitalize on this family’s tragedy; and Glio, Jared’s inoperable tumor, who busily and gleefully devours his host’s memories. Vlahos captures both the worst and best of society: its voyeuristic, reality-show addiction and fascination with celebrity, as well as its ability to unite around a common cause. From page one, it’s evident that the ending will not be a happy one, but numerous laugh-out-loud moments and beautifully drawn characters make for a powerful journey that will leave a lasting imprint on readers. Ages 12–up. Agent: Sandra Bond, Bond Literary. (Jan.)
From the Publisher

"Vlahos captures both the worst and best of society . . . Numerous laugh-out-loud moments and beautifully drawn characters make for a powerful journey that will leave a lasting imprint on readers." - starred review, Publishers Weekly

"Compelling and complex . . . A thought-provoking, moving story with wicked humor and madcap action." - VOYA

"An unsettling rumination on the spectacle of tragedy." - Kirkus Reviews

"Vlahos artfully blends the whimsical and the poignant . . . An achingly funny satire that will appeal more to . . . sophisticated teens." - School Library Journal

"Vlahos successfully (and with vicious humor) takes . . . chances: telling some of the story from the perspective of the tumor; dealing with questions about the sanctity of life; and exposing the toll cancer takes on both patient and loved ones . . . Bold, biting fare often so dark you sometimes want to look away. But you can’t." - starred review, Booklist

"A multifaceted send-up of contemporary cultural life and values regarding the right to die and the spectacle of personal tragedy. . . . The narrative structure and tone compel interest, humor, judgment, and righteous anger, and readers will be left with much to discuss." - BCCB

"A weird, sardonic delight with the shape of an allegory and the heart of a joyful song." - Brenna Yovanoff, NEW YORK TIMES bestselling author of THE REPLACEMENT

"Surprising, original, political, and deeply affecting . . . It is one of those rare works of art that keeps you guessing up to the very last page." - Leila Sales, author of THIS SONG WILL SAVE YOUR LIFE

"It will tear you apart, and yet it's an absolute joy." - Adi Alsaid, author of LET’S GET LOST and NEVER, ALWAYS, SOMETIMES

"Vlahos balances a precarious, heartbreaking, and wholly 21st-century premise with a compulsively readable and well-plotted story." - Janet Geddis, Avid Bookshop, Athens, GA

"Once again, Vlahos strikes all the right chords . . . You know these people and you want to know what happens to them beyond the story." - Paul Hanson, General Manager at Village Books in Bellingham, WA

"Len Vlahos has pulled off a brilliant exploration of intimacy in modern society . . . [H]umorous, while being poignant and haunting at the same time." - Allison Hill, CEO of Vroman's Bookstore and Book Soup in Southern California

"A wry, stylish tale." - The New York Times Sunday Book Review on THE SCAR BOYS

"Distinguished in every way." - starred review, School Library Journal on THE SCAR BOYS

"Etches its way onto the heart and leaves a mark." - Kirkus Reviews on THE SCAR BOYS

Children's Literature - Judy Crowder
Jackie’s life abruptly changes when her Dad is diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor, a high grade glioblastoma multiform. At fifteen, Jackie has few real world friends preferring to live her life on social media. Her best friend is Max, a Russian teen and internet friend. Jackie’s younger sister, Megan, the bane of her existence, has a strong relationship with their mom, Dierdre. Jackie is closer to their father, Jared, who serves in the Oregon State Legislature, an organization that is about to tackle some end-of-life issues. With mere months to live, Jared struggles with providing for his family and does this with ever-decreasing brain function. His solution? Sell his life on eBay. “Forty-five-year-old man with four months to live is selling his life to the highest bidder…a human life, yours to control.” Enter a horrendous cast of characters, all interested in Jared’s death. Hazel, seventeen, loves the idea of a real life online adventure with fellow gamers. Sister Benedict, a nun with skewed beliefs, thinks of Jared’s death as a fine opportunity to press the Catholic Church’s sanctity of life stand. Sherman Kingsborough, a bored, wealthy man without a moral compass, is charmed with the idea of controlling a life—or death—the best thing since scaling Everest. Ethan Overbee, the eventual winner, is a television executive obsessed with putting a reality show, “Life and Death,” on the air. As cameras go up all over Jackie’s home and imminent death hits the airwaves, life aggressively deteriorates for each family member who must find their own way of “living in a fishbowl.” Vlahos presents all points of view, even the tumor, “Glio,” who eats happily through Jared’s brain. Vlahos is a skilled writer; this is a dark, unsettling, and brutal story for mature readers. Reviewer: Judy Crowder; Ages 14 up.
School Library Journal
Gr 9 Up—When Jared Stone is diagnosed with terminal brain cancer, he decides to sell himself on eBay in order to provide for his wife and teenage daughters. Though the auction is quickly shut down, he attracts the attention of a sanctimonious, power-hungry Catholic nun; a teenage girl hoping to save him; a bored, sociopathic billionaire; and a soulless executive who will pay the family five million dollars in exchange for participating in a reality TV show broadcasting the last few months of the man's existence. The Stones agree to the TV deal, but Jackie, Jared's perceptive 15-year-old daughter, soon goes rogue, using every power at her disposal to expose the manipulative machinations of the television network. The author (The Scar Boys) incisively skewers reality TV, the Internet, celebrity culture, and religion, but he's equally adept at exploring the emotional lives of his characters; the bond between Jared and Jackie is especially rich. Describing the responses and experiences of the tumor, called Glio, who gleefully feasts upon Jared's most cherished memories, Vlahos artfully blends the whimsical and the poignant. While the prose is accessible, the premise (the fear of being unable to take care of one's family) and the focus on so many adult characters make this a candidate for a more mature audience. VERDICT An achingly funny satire that will appeal more to grown-up consumers of YA and sophisticated teens, especially fans of A.S. King or Aaron Starmer.—Mahnaz Dar, School Library Journal
Kirkus Reviews
The members of a white, all-American family become the reluctant subjects of a reality TV show recording father Jared Stone's rapid decline from a brain tumor. Disoriented after receiving the news that he has an inoperable high-grade glioblastoma multiforme in his brain, Jared concocts a desperate plan to ensure the financial stability of his family after his death. He auctions his life on eBay to the highest bidders to do with him what they please, forgetting, in his tumor-addled confusion, to consult his family about his plans. What follows is a tragicomic romp through Jared's last months, related through the perspectives of the figures who have a vested interest in his life, from his family to the bidders (a motley assortment including a Catholic nun, a callous television executive, and a teenage gamer) to Jared's tumor itself, anthropomorphized and nicknamed Glio. The resulting reality show aggressively impinges on the privacy and dignity of the Stone family, as Glio gleefully consumes Jared's most cherished memories. Amid the chaos, Jared's quiet older daughter Jackie finds the courage to fight back by staging a behind-the-scenes show of her own. Vlahos' deadpan third-person narration amuses, but it also distances readers from the characters' emotional lives. Ironically, it is Glio who shines through most vividly as he tragically devours Jared's world. An unsettling rumination on the spectacle of tragedy. (Fiction. 15 & up)

Product Details

Bloomsbury USA
Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.90(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.30(d)
910L (what's this?)
Age Range:
12 - 17 Years

Meet the Author

Len Vlahos dropped out of NYU film school in the mid '80s to play guitar and write songs for Woofing Cookies, a punk-pop four piece that toured up and down the East Coast, and had two singles and one full-length LP on Midnight Records. After the band broke up, he followed his other passion, books. He is the author of The Scar Boys, a William C. Morris Award finalist and a #1 Indie Next pick, and Scar Girl, the book's sequel. Len lives in Denver with his wife and two young sons, where he owns the Tattered Cover Book Store.


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Life in a Fishbowl 3.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Sandy5 17 days ago
I really don’t know what to think about this novel. I guess I was anticipating a more emotional read than what I received, it was a letdown by the time I finished reading it. I thought, here was this father who had died and I really didn’t think anyone grieved for him. When he was diagnosed with cancer, he immediately thought of his family. He was concerned for their well-being, would they be financially set after his death? He wanted to guarantee their welfare so he took matters into his own hands. In the end, his family was rewarded but the weeks with them, leading up to his death were chaos. Was that really worth it? Was the chaos worth the money? There were a few times when I thought things might turn around and times were some emotions were revealed but I felt they never presented themselves fully. I was looking for fond and warm moments where the family could remember those last weeks with their father, not the drama that went on when the cameras were rolling. This novel didn’t have heart that I was looking for. This novel did have all the drama of a reality show, it had all the characters, it had the controversy and the disputes that occur off camera and on camera. It had excitement and deception, friendships and hostility. The novel had a cancer which went by the name Gilo. Gilo searched out memories inside Jared and it shared them with me, the reader, as I read. These personal stories of Jared’s were then destroyed never to be seen again, for Gilo was on a mission to destroy Jared for he was incurable. I am glad that I read this novel for it was one of those novels that I have been craving to read for a while. The cover was amazing and the synopsis sounded like a book that I would have loved, sometimes though you never know what is inside.
Aditi-ATWAMB 4 months ago
terminal cancer patient SELLING his life to the highest bidder? And that bidder is a television network that intends to make a reality TV show about his death? SIGN ME UP. When I heard about this books from the lovely people at Bloomsbury, I knew that I had to have it. And now, about half an hour after I finished, I'm... Befuddled? A mix of emotions I can't decipher? And I can't tell if I'm in love with this book, or just wish it was more. Jared Stone was a normal man. A part time graphic designer and part life longish father two two teenage daughter, his life was perfectly normal. Until, that is, he finds out about the high grade multiform glioblastoma growing in his brain that has given him only three months left to live. And so, to ensure that his family will be well provided for without him there, he puts up his life for sale on eBay which gains the attention of a cyber-savvy nun, a billionaire looking for anything that will give him a high, people trying to help and a TV network. Soon, the Stone household is infested with cameras, crew, producers, directors and the eyes of millions of Americans all of whom are trying to watch a man fade from all that he is into nothing. Told in multiple points of view - Jared Stone, Sherman Kingsborough (the billionaire), Sister Benedict, Ethan Overbee (the producer) Deirdre, Jackie and Megan Stone and the tumour, Life in a Fishbowl is one roller coaster that will leave you a blubbering bundle of emotions. While the book started off rather lightly, switching between viewpoints so fast I could barely keep up or feel anything for the characters, I soon got used to it, and the book was an intense portrayal of loss in the eye of the camera. One of the things I REALLY LOVED was that Jared's TUMOUR had its own viewpoint that was actually quite unique and interesting. The only part of the book I didn't understand was the lack of focus on the emotional ending. All we really heard about the Stone family's decisions was that they cried. And then they cried some more, but there was NOTHING else, and I wish there had been. I also sort of felt bad for the crew and the network? I've seen the show UnReal and I realise that what they were trying to do makes for good TV, but the family did sign a contract and well, I guess that since there was SO MUCH going on REBELLING against the network just didn’t seem really realistic. After all, CONTRACTS are BINDING? All in all, it was a very unique book that was emotion filled that is DEFINITELY worth a read. 4 stars.