Fish in a Tree
However, the class begins to transform when their new teacher Mr. Daniels arrives.
In a perfect world, we would all have a Mr. Daniels during our childhood (and beyond). I am guaranteed to automatically love any character that tells people they have the power to set the world on fire, which is precisely what Mr. Daniels does. While Ally is busy trying to hide from the world, Mr. Daniels is busy trying to bring out the unique talents and passions in a classroom full of kids who feel like they’re not really noticed. While Hunt doesn’t explicitly comment on school systems and students who fall through the cracks, she does uplift teachers and students who try things differently - and in doing so, light the world (and classroom) ablaze.
The challenges Ally face are daunting to anyone, and resonate with people who have struggled to “get it” (whatever that “it” might be), or for anyone who just desires to feel normal. Hunt deftly acknowledges learning disabilities, while making Ally’s challenges incredibly relatable through her witty first person narrative. As Ally learns about grit and the power of individuality, I was reminded of hurdles in my own life, and how often we let the words of others cloud our own strengths. Through her time in class, Ally learns to see her weakness in a new light and appreciate her differences, as well as those of her classmates. Her ability to handle conflict with the class bully, Shay, gives her compassion that starts a domino effect throughout her grade. The classroom dynamics are so realistic and honest, and Hunt draws on them to make the reader feel exactly what Ally does throughout the entirety of this novel.
One aspect of this book that left me a tad confused was what exactly Ally was struggling with. I knew that she was having trouble with reading and writing, but it wasn’t until half way through the book that the clues Hunt left for the reader were clearly defined as Dyslexia. For most of the book I wondered if Ally had a form of autism more than I wondered about her having Dyslexia. Not knowing the term for Ally’s struggles gave ample room for the reader to connect without a label, but I personally would have appreciated clearer indicators of her Dyslexia sooner.
While Ally does learn to cope with her Dyslexia, she also learns how to be compassionate and bravely different. Hunt beautifully explores the power of words, friendship, and the ability to find strength in our differences. Fish in a Tree is perfect reading for fans of Kathryn Erskine’s Mockingbird, and they will enjoy following Ally’s struggles and triumphs; reminding us all that words, when used for good, really do have the power to set the world on fire.