Angelfish by Laurence Yep

Angelfish book cover

BIBLIO: 2001, G.P. Putnam’s Sons/Penguin Putnams Books for Young Readers, Ages 8 to 12, $16.99.
REVIEWER: Gwen Harter.
FORMAT: Middle Grade book
ISBN: 0-399-23041-6

Yep’s novel Angelfish is a captivating tale about a Chinese-American girl Robin. This charming story uses the archetypal story of the Beauty and the Beast to create the storyline and subplot of the book. Robin is a young ballet dancer who has gotten the role of Beauty in the upcoming recital. She dances with her friends Amy, Leah, and Thomas, her counterpart the Beast.

On their way home Thomas teases Robin and she throws her bag at him but instead breaks the storefront window of The Dragon Palace, the pet fish store. Rather than getting grounded and having to give up the recital Robin agrees to work for the surly manager, Mr. Tsow (Cao).

Upon working for Mr. Tsow, Robin is convinced she has met the real Beast. When she tells Grandmother about this awful old man she is reminded that most people are turned bitter by experience, not born that way. Robin reflects on the story of the ballet and vows to find out why Mr.Tsow has turned so sour and uses her experiences in the fish store in her dancing.She notices that Mr.Tsow has a hidden kindness which he shows in particular to his angelfish.

In her search for the humanity inside of Mr.Tsow Robin learns more about China’s history and discovers Mr.Tsow’s dancing fame and helps her Beast rediscover his love for the art.

This is a coming of age tale that shows compassion, heritage, and determination. This book brings up some serious topics such as racism, dark parts of history, gambling, and the effort needed to be part of a family (two busy parents) in a way that is true but easy to comprehend opening up a wide range of discussions.

A great addition to a classroom setting as a way to explore different cultures in a fun way and a great read for kids in general, especially those who have very specific interests such as ballet and fish.

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