Matthews, L(aura) S.

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Matthews, L(aura) S.

PERSONAL: Married; children: two.

ADDRESSES: Home—England. Agent—c/o Author Mail, Delacorte Press, 1745 Broadway, New York, NY 10019.

CAREER: Writer and educator.

AWARDS, HONORS: Fidler Award for a first novel for children, 2004, for Fish.

WRITINGS:

Fish (children's novel), Delacorte Press (New York, NY), 2004.

SIDELIGHTS: L. S. Matthews, who lives and writes in England, based her debut novel, Fish, on a dream she had during a stressful period in her life. "I woke up and thought (as you would, if you had a dream like Fish), what was all that about?," she said in an interview for Randomhouse.com. As the story began to take more coherent form in her mind, she faced the stresses of finishing training as a teacher, selling her house and moving, caring for two children, and—reminiscent of the problem faced by her novel's main character, Tiger—considering how she would move three Koi carp to a new location.

In Fish, Tiger is the child of humanitarian aid workers living in an unnamed country devastated by war, crippled by famine, and parched by drought. When the country's precarious political situation worsens and war again becomes a real threat, the family decides that it is time to leave. The borders are closed because of the masses of refugees; to escape, Tiger and his parents must travel across dangerous landscapes populated by menacing soldiers. Joined by Guide—whose real name is too difficult to pronounce, he tells Tiger—and Guide's sturdy donkey, the family sets out to cross treacherous mountains and an inhospitable desert to find safety in the neighboring country.

On the day the family sets out, Tiger finds a small fish desperately trying to survive in a turbid puddle that was once a pond. Tiger rescues the fish, beginning the child's singular mission to ensure that the creature survives the arduous trek to safety. Wise and tragic Guide, whose family was killed in the war, suggests that Tiger carry the fish in a pot. As supplies and precious water reserves dwindle, Fish is transferred to whatever container will hold it and enough water to keep it alive—at one time, even traveling in Tiger's mouth. There is, however, never a moment's doubt that Fish must be saved. "To compromise its survival is to question the travelers' own," observed School Library Journal reviewer Alison Follos. The fish becomes symbolic of the family's survival, and Tiger's tenacity mirrors the determination that the family must show to reach safety unharmed.

Fish "has multiple dimensions that balance hardship with unwavering faith and gives hope within the darkness," Follos commented of the novel. Because Tiger is never assigned a gender, the young narrator could be either a boy or a girl, and therefore resonates equally with both male and female readers, according to critics. Readers are allowed to "bring their own interpretation and experience to the symbolism embedded" in the novel, noted a Publishers Weekly reviewer. Hazel Rochman, writing in Booklist, noted that "the realistic details of the fragile creature's miraculous rescue make a powerful metaphor," while the Publishers Weekly reviewer concluded that Matthews "allows just enough detail—and heart—to make miracles feel possible."

During Matthews' childhood, she "singularly failed to notice that girls should be different until people started telling me so at about the age of 12," as she recalled in the Randomhouse.com interview. This perspective helped her conceive the concept of creating a character of indeterminate gender. Some readers insist that she intended Tiger to be one or the other, the author commented. "Just as they are sure there is an answer, I am equally fascinated by the fact they think it matters." Matthews concluded the interview by noting that "I wouldn't write a book which didn't challenge the reader with questions which maybe aren't easily answered. I have to write books which at least have the potential to effect changes."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

PERIODICALS

Asia-Africa Intelligence Wire, March 24, 2004, Caroline Yap, "Fish on a Journey," review of Fish.

Booklist, July, 2004, Hazel Rochman, review of Fish, p. 1844.

Instructor, January-February, 2005, Lynne T. Burke, "Books with Character: Character Education Builds Tolerance and Respect," review of Fish, p. 73.

Kirkus Reviews, May 15, 2004, review of Fish, p. 495.

Publishers Weekly, May 31, 2004, review of Fish, p. 75.

School Library Journal, July, 2004, Alison Follos, review of Fish, p. 109.

ONLINE

Kidsreads.com, http://www.kidsreads.com/ (April 12, 2005), Sarah A. Wood, review of Fish.

Random House Web site, http://www.randomhouse.com/ (April 12, 2005), interview with Matthews.

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