GOODREADS SUMMARY | Square Fish | Paperback, 272 pages | Original Publication: February 15th, 1983 | Read: 2011 publication | Young Readers 9-12 | Rating: 3 out of 5 Stars
My experience with this book is not very pleasant. I mean, it wasn’t bad. No, not at all. I suppose it can be compared to when one is reading the back of a Raisin Bran box of cereal while shovelling spoonfuls of them in their mouth: it’s good for you but in the end, it’s no choco puffs. The thing is, I feel like I’ve been gipped. The blurb at the back of this book advertises FORBIDDEN ROMANCE in big, bold letters. And if you know me, you know that’s a huge bait. Besides, it’s MADELEINE L’ENGLE! How could you now want to read this?! Well, I did. And I’m sorry to say, it was a tad disappointing.
The writing is very odd. I suppose it reflects the era from whence the novel took place. The dialogues are very clinical, and some too formal. But again, that probably had more to do with the way people spoke at the time (post-World War 1).
This is the story of a young girl sent to a boarding school in Switzerland. Flip’s father, being a traveling artist, did not want to take Flip around the world with him. So Eunice, his companion, suggested she goes to a boarding school. He’s also made it a goal in life to search for all the missing kids displaced during the war. What I don’t get is why his travels brought him to China when the war was centred in Europe.
Eunice, the woman who wants to replace Flip’s mother in her father’s life, plays the quintessential evil step mother role: very haughty, expects too much of Flip, and very critical of Flip. And I guess the reason why Flip was so against the boarding school to begin with.
In the boarding school, we see Flip be her awkward self. The girls call her “Pill” instead of Flip, and we see her stumble haplessly in every social situation. With the help of her Art teacher and her nephew, Paul, she starts blossoming on her own. We see her adapt and accept her lot in life. But while I enjoyed seeing her come of age, I was still a little confused about how old the kids were.
There was also supposed to be a romance between Paul and Flip, but to be honest, they were better off as siblings. I really wish they didn’t packaged this book as having a forbidden romance because of two things: one, there wasn’t any. And second, it was an awkward romance.
What I enjoyed about this book was the depicted life on a Swiss boarding school. Though Flip had to go through a version of bullying (aka, hazing) at first, in time, the girls eventually warmed up to her. I especially liked the shown camaraderie during Christmas time. It was gorgeously described. It makes me want to stay at home on Christmas and create our own family tradition.
Over all, I almost feel like it’s sacrilege to say I didn’t quite enjoy this book. I can compare it to someone listening to an aria in a monotone voice. Lifeless novel, packaged as a romance that didn’t exist.