Goldfish: A Novel

Goldfish: A Novel

by Nat Luurtsema

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I am Lou Brown:

Social outcast, precocious failure, 5'10" and still growing.

I was on the fast track to the Olympic superstardom.

Now, I'm training boys too cool to talk to me. In a sport I just made up. In a fish tank.

My life has quickly become very weird.

Nat Luurtsema's YA debut is side-splittingly funny and painfully true to anyone who's just trying to figure out how they fit into the world.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781250089199
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
Publication date: 06/07/2016
Sold by: Macmillan
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 240
File size: 934 KB
Age Range: 12 - 18 Years

About the Author

Nat Luurtsema is a BAFTA-nominated screenwriter, stand-up comic, BAFTA Rocliffe alumni, member of the sketch group Jigsaw, actor, author of Cuckoo in the Nest, and writer for BBC Radio 4, BBC3, and Channel 4. Great driver, average waitress, terrible singer.
Nat Luurtsema is a BAFTA-nominated screenwriter, stand-up comic, BAFTA Rocliffe alumni, member of the sketch group Jigsaw, actor, author of Cuckoo in the Nest, and writer for BBC Radio 4, BBC3, and Channel 4. Great driver, average waitress, terrible singer.

Read an Excerpt


By Nat Luurtsema

Feiwel and Friends

Copyright © 2016 Nat Luurtsema
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-250-08919-9


My pillow smells. I should've changed the pillowcase weeks ago, but I haven't, and now it smells like my head. Which I did not realize was so smelly.

I can hear my family moving around downstairs, slamming drawers and clattering bowls. I'm not used to these morning noises because I'd usually be up at five a.m., grab my swim kit, and be training by six. Forty lengths of breaststroke, forty backstroke, forty crawl, ten butterfly, then a quick shower, sleepwalk through school, and be back in the pool by four p.m. YOLO!

But I haven't swum since the time trials three weeks ago, and now I'm stuck with a surprising number of useless hours. Who knew days were so long? I sometimes used to wonder what I was missing as I pounded out the lengths in the pool. Now I know. No-thing.

Except I'd never met our mailman before. He has a lot of nose hair. That's it.

My name's Lou and I am a fifteen-year-old ex-swimmer. I have an older sister, Laverne. Yup, Lou and Lav. We have a brother called Toilet.

That's a lie. It's just me, Lav, Mom, and Dad, in a small semidetached house in the most boring town in the world.

So this summer I stopped swimming and I met our postman. And I finally got all that crying done that I've been meaning to do for ages, so that's good, isn't it? Plus I really explored the concept of Lying in Bed All Day Feeling Nothing but Despair. A summer lived right to the edges.

It's the first day of school. I'd mark the occasion by wearing a dress, but I don't own one. In our most private moments Hannah and I have accepted that the only way we'll find a dress to fit our shoulders is if we go to that cross-dressing shop in town. They've got nice stuff in the window; we'll cut the labels out.

It's also my first day without Hannah, as she's already left for the High Performance Training Camp in Dorset. She'll be there all term. Mom says that now that we're separated for a bit, I'll come out of Hannah's shadow. But she doesn't understand — I liked it there! I was very happy hanging out in it.

Going back to school would be fine if Hannah hadn't got through the time trials either. We could face it together, maybe hint that the competition was a big conspiracy. That we were too fast and we'd have threatened international relations at the next Olympics when we smashed everyone out of the water with our awesome times.

"Yeah, well, Russia," we'd have said, with careful looks around us. "They do not like silver, if you know what I'm saying." Then we'd have tugged our fedoras down and skulked off to double physics.

Wonder if the other side of my pillow is less smelly? I flip it. No.

But now Hannah has gone to the High Performance Training Camp without me and I won't see her all term. We're so far away from each other! She's in Dorset and I'm in Essex. She's heading to the Olympics; the most exciting place I'm heading is the bathroom.

Miraculously, it's free — pretty impressive in a house of four people, three of whom take showers you could time with a calendar.

I'm still using that special harsh shampoo for swimmers, the stuff that strips the chlorine out of your hair. Money is a bit tight at the moment, so Mom won't chuck it. I have to use it all up first, and we seem to have found a never-ending bottle. I soap my head and reflect that it really doesn't help that the smell reminds me of my old life.

I step out of the shower, fold a towel dress around me (the only kind I fit in, because it's sleeveless), and scuff my feet along the hallway. The carpet is worn in patches, so I'm careful not to catch my toe on a snagged thread. No one needs to start their day hopping and screaming.

I open my clothes drawer and drag out some jeans and a T-shirt — I don't have any "nice" clothes. Since I was eleven I've been caught up in some desperate, endless growth spurt. There's no point buying decent clothes, because they probably won't fit in a month's time. I'm five ten and still growing.

It's fine; if I ever get a boyfriend, I can carry him when he's tired.

I stab a wide-toothed comb gently into my hair because I don't have time to cut it out if it gets tangled. My hair doesn't grow down; it goes out, like Hannah's. We don't look like the princess in a fairy tale. We look like the enchanted vines that covered her castle for a hundred years.

It was always comforting to have a best friend who looked as different as I do. And we never minded, because we had swimming. We had a Thing. Now my Thing is gone and so has my friend.

I can't delay this much longer. I'm going to have to eat some breakfast and then ... gah ... school. I swing around the end of the banister and can't help smiling when I catch sight of my family.

The kitchen is too small for the four of us — we only fit in there if everyone stays very still. If you actually want to move, then elbows will get bumped and cereal will get tipped down backs. You know your house is cramped when you can start making a sandwich and end up in a food fight.

Dad is cooking (carefully), Mom's reading a book, and Laverne is troweling makeup onto her ridiculously beautiful face. They are such a good-looking family; they look like they're in an ad. They don't need a Thing. Everyone's just grateful they get to look at them.

I'm proud of them, but I wish I didn't look adopted.

Mom is half Indonesian, all curves and shiny brown hair and skin, while Dad looks like a doctor on a TV show. Good chin, nice teeth. Admittedly, he has a bit of a belly these days, but he just holds his breath for photos. Laverne is sixteen, with glossy black hair, actual boobs, and a tattoo that Mom and Dad don't know about.

Nature made her and then, a year later, took the same ingredients and made me. It's baffling. Good thing they didn't have a third child; it would probably have a face like a knee.

"Morning ..." I sigh at the room, and they mumble back sleepy responses. Dad slides a brick of scrambled egg onto my plate as I sit down. Mom subtly slides Lav's makeup bag away from her.

"Enough, Laverne."

"A little more highlighter and blush and I'm done, I swear."

Mom keeps reading as she drops the makeup bag into a drawer next to her. Lav looks mutinous, but she's still got her mascara wand, so she makes good use of it before Mom reunites it with the bottle.

The mood in the kitchen is a little, well, moody. Lav's grounded because she was texting a boy late at night. I never have any boys to text, regardless of the time of day.

I poke up a forkful of egg and stare at it. Eyes down, I say, "Um. Caaaan I ..."

"No," Mom says.

"You don't even know what I was going to say!"

Mom imitates my voice with annoying accuracy. "Can I not go to school today or maybe ever, can I just lie and get a job instead and we'll tell everyone at school that I changed my name, had plastic surgery, and made it onto Team Great Britain after all?"

Damn. Spot on.

Laverne finishes applying her thirty-second coat of mascara and leans toward me as if she's going to impart the secret of immortality.

Expectations low, I lean toward her.

"It's going to be OK at school," she says.


"Yes. Because no one cares about your swimming. Only you think it's a big deal."

"It is a big deal."

"Shut up, I'm trying to help you. I swear, if anyone even mentions swimming — which they won't — and you tell them what happened, they'll say, 'Huh.' And they won't ever think of it again. It's boring. No one cares. Amelia Bond from eleventh grade? She had her big hairy face mole removed over the summer. That is interesting."

I'm unconvinced but not willing to have an argument about it. Lav's wrong; it's not true that no one cares. Hannah cares. Hannah understands that swimming is extremely important. But thinking about Hannah feels like poking a blister, so I make myself stop.

Dad slings the frying pan into the sink. He does all the cooking. Mom's specialty dish is food poisoning.

"You girls ready to leave for school in ten?"


"Lav! You always sit in the front!"

"Yes. Because I always call shotgun. Please stop me if this confuses you."

"Fine. Infinity shotgun!"

"You can't call infinity shotgun — everyone knows that," says Mom. "Now off you go."

"Are you home tonight, Mom?" I ask.

"Uh, no, I have a ..."

"Daaa-ate," we all chorus.

"So go on, what's his name?" Lav asks.

Mom hesitates.

"It's OK," says Dad kindly. "If you don't know it, you don't have to pretend."

"You can check his wallet when he goes to the bathroom," Lav suggests.

"Though if he takes it with him, he's possibly not coming back," I finish.

Mom gives out three death stares and returns to her book.

Yeah, date. So it's a little odd in this house.

Mom and Dad divorced when I was little but are the nicest divorced couple. They never fight and they get along really well. I'm not sure why they divorced, but I don't want to ask in case the answer involves sex and I'll never stop being sick.

Dad lost his job last year and he had to move in with us until he finds a new one. It's taking a lot longer than he thought it would. Sometimes when he leaves his email open, I see all the rejections in his in-box.

It's not ideal. Lav and I have to share a room, but we don't say anything because we don't want to hurt his feelings. I worry about him. He gets up early every morning, like he's still got a job, and dresses in a suit and then just ... I don't know ... waits for the day to pass until we come home.

It's like having a professionally dressed but depressed dog.

Between me and him, this house hasn't been much fun this summer. No wonder Lav and Mom are dating like men are off to war.

We call goodbye to Mom and trudge out to the car. Lav forces me into the back, which is not easy. Three-door cars are such a lie; you can't call it three doors unless you see the trunk as an acceptable way to enter a car.

Laverne fiddles with the radio until she finds a pirate station. It sounds like people shouting in a cramped space. As if she doesn't get enough of that at home.

"Oh, Lav, you're so alternative. I cannot get my head around how nonmainstream you are." I sigh from behind my knees. "Move your seat forward."

Lav squeezes the lever and slowly pushes her seat back as far as it goes, crushing me into an even tighter S shape.

"It's garage, idiot."

"Is that the name of the music or just where they are? Come on, Lav, seat forward!"

"Laverne!" says Dad. "Move the seat forward or you can walk the rest of the way. Do you want to walk in those shoes? Can you walk in those shoes?"

I peer around to see what Dad's talking about. She's wearing black, studded, chunky boots — it looks like she's got weapons on her feet.

"Yes, I can! Not very far, or fast, or ..."

"I don't know why you do that to your feet," Dad sighs.

"You don't get me, Mark," she sighs back dramatically.

"Dad!" he corrects her.

"No, Lav, everyone gets you," I say, defending him. "You're so instantly gettable that if you were an exam question, everyone would be happy to see you. And that's the only time they would be happy to see you, ha ha ha — ow! Legs legs legs!"

As Dad approaches the school gates, I can see a tall boy with long hair loitering. Lav slumps in the seat.

"Drive, drive, drive!" she hisses at Dad.

"What?" he asks, but drives past the school gates.

"Ah ..." Lav sighs.

"Was that Beau Michaels waiting for you?" I say.

"Yes, and shut up. Dad, can you drop us at the back entrance, please?"

"Wait." Dad is puzzled. "Someone named their son Beau and that was allowed to happen?"

"Daaa-aad." Lav rolls her eyes.

"Like, no one was arrested? They were just allowed to do that to an innocent child?" he asks.

"You're not funny," Lav tells him firmly.

Dad circles a mini traffic circle and heads back to the school entrance.

"No, no, no!" Lav slumps down in her seat again. "I mean you're hilarious, Dad! Really, very witty!"

"I thought so," he agrees serenely, and we sail past the entrance again, poor Beau Michaels watching us with the dawning realization that all is not well in his love life.

Dad pulls up at the back entrance to school. Lav hops out and flips her seat forward, and I unfold myself into a normal shape. Well, normal for me.

"Come on, LouLou," says Dad.

I pick at some dry skin on my lip and look down. Maybe Dad will get bored of waiting and just let me sit quietly in the back of the car for a few years. Eventually I'll be old enough to shuffle forward and share the driving.

Lav leans down at my window.

"I swear," she says, "this isn't a big deal unless you make it a big deal. You nearly got to the Olympics. That's the closest anyone I know in this crappy little town has ever got to achieving anything! No offense, Dad."

"No, that's fine," he murmurs.

"So please, just don't even mention it. Now the school day begins, and you do not know me."

She wobbles away on her monstrous shoes. She looks like a baby gazelle. I can't imagine how dumb I look when I clump along behind her. Gazelle and the mammoth, off on their adventures.

That thought makes me even sadder, so I push it aside and give Dad a brave smile. My dry lip splits and bleeds.

"It's going to be a good day," he promises.

"OK," I mumble through blood and a semiclean tissue I found in the door handle. I clamber out of the car and follow Lav at the agreed-upon distance of six feet.


Weez!! I can't believe I've been here a week, time is flying! People are nice, but I haven't scoped out any real friends yet (you have no grounds for jel). I'm learning so much, I thought everyone would be terrifyingly good, but I'm OK, you know? Not saying I'm the best but I think I've got a chance. I MISS YOU.


Lav and I don't hang out at school — she's in the grade above, and we're so different I'm not sure people know we're related. She's pretty popular but seems to get in endless long-running fights with other girls. She thinks they're intimidated by her maturity.

I think it's because she flirts with their boyfriends. We agree to disagree.

I used to head into school with Hannah, exhausted and damp from swimming, do some work, chat with some people (well, she would; I'd hang out in her shadow — happily, thanks, Mom), then head back to the pool. Hannah and I always treated school like a chore, a little like the Queen snipping a ribbon on a hospital wing.

I don't think we missed much; our school is very ordinary. A horse walked onto the soccer field six years ago and people still talk about it.

But despite my whining, I have resolved to make an effort. Today I'm launching Operation: Make Friends. I'm an idiot for having only one friend. I needed a spare!

I'm so used to having Hannah's arm slung round me as she makes me laugh with nine years' worth of stupid private jokes. I've got all my halves of those jokes and nothing to do with them.

I feel shy as I enter my homeroom, so I check my bag to make me look busy, not lonely. Classic move. I delve through it, looking at my books and pencils. Yup, all there. Hi, guys.

I get so carried away with my acting that I trip, my backpack swings around with surprising force, and eight small objects fall out. What eight small objects, you ask?

Eight tampons.


What is wrong with tampons? Seems like every time I open my bag, they leap out in a group suicide bid. I haven't even started my period yet; they're just in case. My face burns with a blush as I crouch and start shoveling them back into my bag, desperate for this moment to end. It couldn't get worse.

Yes, it could. I feel a light tap on my head — someone is "helping" by throwing an escaped tampon at me.

And then Mr. Peters races in late. Perfect — the nicest teacher in school (and not bad-looking, actually, if you like cardigans) begins his morning by falling over me as I scrabble on the floor, chasing tampons and trying not to cry.

The class falls silent as he comes over and helps me to my feet. I like Mr. Peters; he's one of the few people in school taller than me, and not in a stooped, have-to-get-my-shoes-specially-made sort of way.

I give him a "thank you and that never happened" smile and weave through to our desk at the back. My desk, now. Teachers always knew they could sit Hannah and me there. We weren't particularly good students, but we were quiet. You don't need to pass notes to someone you've known that long.

I sit down, face still burning, and hope everyone develops amnesia by lunch. I don't want to be Tampon Brown all semester.

"Did you see that video I posted on your wall?" The two boys in front of me chat, and I lean forward to join in. After a bad start, Operation: Make Friends begins right now.

"Yeah! That guy looked so much like Hatsy it blew my mind."

"That's why I put it up there!"

"Oh, right! But everyone looks like Hatsy."

They collapse into quiet hysterics. For some reason.

I'm watching the conversation go back and forth, feeling the smile die on my face.

Who is Hatsy? Is it funny that everyone looks like him? Apparently. And what was that video? This conversation is like code; there's no way I can join in.

"Double history next, nightmare!" I say to the back of their heads in a friendly, eye-rolly sort of way. But too quietly, so they don't realize I'm talking to them. I look out the window and bite my nail. I'm not embarrassed, I'm busy! Busy biting this nail.

"Sorry, did you say something?" One of the boys turns around.

I nod, suddenly choking on a piece of nail. Now I'm coughing right in his face. Right in his face.

"No talking in the back!" Mr. Peters calls over. The boys turn back, one of them frowning and wiping his face.

I sit, stunned by my own social idiocy, and wonder if I will ever stop blushing or if my family can use my head as a radiator and cut their heating bills.

Then I'll have to be homeschooled, right?

My phone vibrates (it's up my sleeve) and I slide it out for a peek. It's a text from Mom, a picture of a badly stuffed otter. She may be grumpy in the mornings (and some afternoons and evenings), but she gets me — bad taxidermy always makes me laugh.

There's a picture of an annoyed-looking stuffed fox holding a handbag that never stops being funny, no matter how many times I look at it (and I needed to look at that fox a lot this summer). I scroll around my phone and then tap my in-box.

I really should reply to Hannah's last message. We've been chatting every day, but she starts all the conversations and I feel like everything I write is fake — things like I'm sooooooo happy for yoooooo! Xxxxx.

I'm a very bad liar.

After the time trials, I did my best to seem OK. I sat at the front of the minibus instead of at the back with Hannah, because I had suddenly developed "car sickness."


Excerpted from Goldfish by Nat Luurtsema. Copyright © 2016 Nat Luurtsema. Excerpted by permission of Feiwel and Friends.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Goldfish: A Novel 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
WhisperingStories More than 1 year ago
Lou Brown has only one goal in life, to become an Olympic swimmer, along with her one and only friend, Hannah who is a swimmer too. But when Lou fails to make it in the heats to get into the prestigious high-performance training camp, and Hannah does, she is left with no swimming lessons, no best friend to hand around with, and no purpose to her life. Things get doubly hard for her at school without Hannah, as Lou is classed as a social outcast, and no-one wants to sit with her, let alone talk to her. So why is it that three of the cool boys are trying to get her attention, and what on earth are they trying to do in the swimming pool? Girl out of Water is a hilarious account of one young girl’s life. Lou is extremely funny and witty and had me crying with laughter, at and with her, throughout the book. Her life is completely bizarre, from an older sister who pretends that she doesn’t even know her, to a divorced mum and dad that live together, whilst her mum goes on dates with other men, and her out of work dad goes out everyday in his suit, pretending to go to job interviews. Plus there is also her friend Hannah, who seems to be losing the plot whilst she is away at camp, making for a daring rescue mission. The cool boys, Gabriel, Roman and Pete, want to win the Britain’s Hidden Talent contest, and they want to do it with a sort of synchronised swimming, underwater dancing show. They have already failed one audition and now they need Lou to teach them everything she knows and to train them up, so that they can win. The boys are complete individuals, personality-wise, yet they are all just as wacky as Lou. Over time you start to notice a friendship occurring between the outcast and the cool kids. The plot had me hooked right from the opening chapter and I read the book in two sittings, on a return train journey. I had many strange looks at times as I actually did laugh out loud on the train in front of lots of strangers – oops! If you are looking for a book that will give you a happiness-boost and lighten your mood, then this is the one. Whether you are 8 or 80, you will love this book.
Laura_at_125Pages More than 1 year ago
3.5 Stars Rounded Up Goldfish by Nat Luurtsema was a cute story that offered some really great moments. It also offered some moments where I was super frustrated with the narrator. Lou had everything going for her. A great best friend, a possible Olympic level swimming career, a coach who believed in her. So going into the qualifiers for a prestigious training camp should have been the best day of her life. Instead, it changes everything. Lou’s path has changed and the support she thought she had is gone. Now left with time on her hands she runs across a group of three boys with a plan to get on Britain’s Got Talent. A plan that involves her, a synchronized swimming routine and an aquarium. The plot of Goldfish was unique. It’s not often you think of a YA story that involves a televised talent show, viral videos, choreographed male swimmers and shattered dreams all combined. I enjoyed the writing of Nat Luurtsema. She was able to combine so very disparate elements and make them all work together in a very cohesive manner. The pacing had a few issues. There were a few bumpy transitions and odd time jumps. The world built was good, but not great. We saw everything through the eyes of the fifteen-year-old narrator and she was so lost in her emotions most of the time that we never saw where she was. There were a lot of emotions in the read, but most of them turned me off. Lou was whiny and so wrapped up in herself that she bled negativity. I got very tired of her saying how ugly and worthless she was. It was draining as a reader. I did really enjoy the three young men in the story, they provided some nice comic relief and I really enjoyed their bond. Goldfish had some really great moments and them some not so good ones. There was an odd side plot at almost the end of the book with Lou’s best friend that seemed just thrown in, and some “mean girls” who were not really mean. But the majority of the tale was very well done and I did enjoy the book as a whole. This was Nat Luurtsema’s YA debut, and while there were a few bumps, overall it was a success. Original review @ I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.