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Life in a Fishbowl Hardcover – January 3, 2017
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From School Library Journal
Gr 9 Up—When Jared Stone is diagnosed with terminal brain cancer, he decides to sell himself on eBay in order to provide for his wife and teenage daughters. Though the auction is quickly shut down, he attracts the attention of a sanctimonious, power-hungry Catholic nun; a teenage girl hoping to save him; a bored, sociopathic billionaire; and a soulless executive who will pay the family five million dollars in exchange for participating in a reality TV show broadcasting the last few months of the man's existence. The Stones agree to the TV deal, but Jackie, Jared's perceptive 15-year-old daughter, soon goes rogue, using every power at her disposal to expose the manipulative machinations of the television network. The author (The Scar Boys) incisively skewers reality TV, the Internet, celebrity culture, and religion, but he's equally adept at exploring the emotional lives of his characters; the bond between Jared and Jackie is especially rich. Describing the responses and experiences of the tumor, called Glio, who gleefully feasts upon Jared's most cherished memories, Vlahos artfully blends the whimsical and the poignant. While the prose is accessible, the premise (the fear of being unable to take care of one's family) and the focus on so many adult characters make this a candidate for a more mature audience. VERDICT An achingly funny satire that will appeal more to grown-up consumers of YA and sophisticated teens, especially fans of A.S. King or Aaron Starmer.—Mahnaz Dar, School Library Journal
"Vlahos captures both the worst and best of society . . . Numerous laugh-out-loud moments and beautifully drawn characters make for a powerful journey that will leave a lasting imprint on readers." - starred review, Publishers Weekly
"Compelling and complex . . . A thought-provoking, moving story with wicked humor and madcap action." - VOYA
"An unsettling rumination on the spectacle of tragedy." - Kirkus Reviews
"Vlahos artfully blends the whimsical and the poignant . . . An achingly funny satire that will appeal more to . . . sophisticated teens." - School Library Journal
"Vlahos successfully (and with vicious humor) takes . . . chances: telling some of the story from the perspective of the tumor; dealing with questions about the sanctity of life; and exposing the toll cancer takes on both patient and loved ones . . . Bold, biting fare often so dark you sometimes want to look away. But you can’t." - starred review, Booklist
"A multifaceted send-up of contemporary cultural life and values regarding the right to die and the spectacle of personal tragedy. . . . The narrative structure and tone compel interest, humor, judgment, and righteous anger, and readers will be left with much to discuss." - BCCB
"A weird, sardonic delight with the shape of an allegory and the heart of a joyful song." - Brenna Yovanoff, NEW YORK TIMES bestselling author of THE REPLACEMENT
"Surprising, original, political, and deeply affecting . . . It is one of those rare works of art that keeps you guessing up to the very last page." - Leila Sales, author of THIS SONG WILL SAVE YOUR LIFE
"It will tear you apart, and yet it's an absolute joy." - Adi Alsaid, author of LET’S GET LOST and NEVER, ALWAYS, SOMETIMES
"Vlahos balances a precarious, heartbreaking, and wholly 21st-century premise with a compulsively readable and well-plotted story." - Janet Geddis, Avid Bookshop, Athens, GA
"Once again, Vlahos strikes all the right chords . . . You know these people and you want to know what happens to them beyond the story." - Paul Hanson, General Manager at Village Books in Bellingham, WA
"Len Vlahos has pulled off a brilliant exploration of intimacy in modern society . . . [H]umorous, while being poignant and haunting at the same time." - Allison Hill, CEO of Vroman's Bookstore and Book Soup in Southern California
"A wry, stylish tale." - The New York Times Sunday Book Review on THE SCAR BOYS
"Distinguished in every way." - starred review, School Library Journal on THE SCAR BOYS
"Etches its way onto the heart and leaves a mark." - Kirkus Reviews on THE SCAR BOYS
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Top Customer Reviews
Jared Stone, an Oregon state senator, is working on an assisted dying bill when he discovers he has a terminal brain tumour (glioblastoma multiforme). He doesn’t immediately tell his family, but he considers the financial implications of his death and decides, for their sake, to auction what remains of his life on eBay.
The novel follows the impact of events on his family – in particular his sensitive, lonely fifteen-year-old daughter Jackie (whose response contrasts with her pretty, popular younger sister Megan) and four people who make a bid for Jared’s life, for very different reasons.
Life in a Fishbowl succeeds in treading a very difficult line – it is full of absurdist humour but it also has compassion and doesn’t shrink from difficult issues such as bereavement and assisted dying.
It takes in a lot of zeitgeisty themes – reality TV, computer games, PR, as well as perennial topics such as the torment of not being popular at school. As you’d expect, Jackie is the focus of the novel (presumably because sensitive, lonely girls read more books than pretty, popular ones) but we get the perspectives of all the family.
Even the tumour, ‘Glio’, is anthropomorphised. I thought at first this might be too cute, but it means the author can show Jared’s memories as Glio devours them, and gives us Jared’s thoughts at a time when he cannot articulate them.
Life in a Fishbowl shines a satirical light on contemporary culture but also has great warmth. It is funny, engaging and full of life.
I received a copy of Life in a Fishbowl from the publisher via Netgalley.
An inoperable glioblastoma multiforme brain tumor is feasting on Jared Stone’s brain. This explains his bouts of confusion and forgetfulness that have lately plagued Jared’s daily life. The doctors give Jared less than a year to live, but his life will never be the same. His mental capacity will deteriorate with each passing day. Jerod tries to figure out how his family will financially survive without him. He comes up with a spur of the moment idea: selling himself on eBay with a reserve of one million dollars. This creates an overwhelming outpouring of emotions ranging from outrage to sympathy. It also causes several individuals to bid on Jared’s life: a catholic nun; a spoiled, rich billionaire; a heartless all-business television executive, and a hardcore virtual reality gamer. Each has a reason for wanting to help Jared and his family; Deidre, his wife; and Jackie and Megan, his daughters. The final solution gives the Stones a new normal. “This was a twenty-four-seven spotlight on the end of their father’s and husband’s life with all the world watching. Their house was being transformed into a cruel kind of fishbowl, and all they could do was pucker and swim.”
This book is packed with raw emotions. The reader’s emotions will take a rollercoaster ride throughout the book. This is one of my favorite things about this book. My heart experienced every emotion possible: joy, compassion, empathy, loathing, hatred, disbelief, and a score of others. The loathing emotion was probably the one that resonated the most. In the story, Jared’s tumor, Glio, is a main character. As Gilo eats Jared’s memories, he actually lives them. He experiences the smells, sights, touches, emotions, and sounds Jared experienced when he lived the memories. From the very first time the tumor is introduced, I loathed him. He was so selfish and self-centered. As he eats the memories, they are erased from Jared’s mind. " With each bite Glio took of this previously inaccessible corner of the brain. Jared's eyes lost an iota of sparkle. It was as if he were the personification of the story where someone was removing all the adjectives, conjunctions, and adverbs, so the only things left were noun and verbs." The way Valhos gives Glio the personality and the driving force to devour all of Jared’s mind made Glio ultimate villains. Several of the eBay bidders have some very SICK reasons to purchase Jared. These characters also play with your negative emotions. There are a lot of people to despise in this story: Sister Benedict, Ethan Overbee, and Sherman Kingsborough to just name a few. This book also renews your faith in humankind. The acts of kindness Jackie, Deirdre, Max, and Hazel perform will make your heart feel happy again. I loved how Valhos allows the reader inside the minds of the characters so each action is fully understood. The rollercoaster ride of emotions is justified at the end of the book. It is a happy-sad ending. Of course, Jared dies, but if he didn’t, the book would be ruined. Justice is served and all the reader’s questions are answered.
Living in a Fishbowl also address some very deep issues. Prolonged life, assisted suicide, quality of life, and patient rights are just a few. Each issue is handled in a way that allows the reader to step back and think about both sides. It presents these issues in a personal way.
I highly recommend this book for upper middle schoolers and high schoolers. It is not for everyone, but those that like it will list it as a new favorite. It would make the perfect book club book because it offers several topics for deep discussions.
Life in a Fishbowl is told in third person from varying points of view — Jackie, her father, various bidders and the tumor that upended everything to begin with. This gives Life in a Fishbowl an almost documentary feel that works well with the subject. I admit this style took some getting used to initially, but the story is so compelling, I found it easy to adjust.
From the TV producer who will do anything for ratings to the father who just wants to provide for his family, Life in a Fishbowl is an excellent look at life and how it is valued — or not — as the case may be. Author Len Vlahos strips away the smoke a mirrors that often misguide us, and instead gives us a raw look at terminal illness and how being true to yourself can set you free.