Book Review: The Magic Fish by Trung Le Nguyen


Kayla Hartman

Book sent by the Random House Children’s Books high school newspaper book review program

Kayla Hartman, Editor: Virginia Bates

The Magic Fish is the debut graphic novel by Trung Le Nguyen. It tells a story through multiple interwoven fairytales. Nguyen takes the stories of his childhood and combines them with gorgeous visuals to create this dazzling coming-of-age tale.   

The main story follows Tiến, a young boy who wants to come out to his Vietnamese parents but has a hard time finding the right way to do so, largely due to language barriers. We also get to learn about his mother and her life as an immigrant from Vietnam and how that has impacted her familial relationships. 

This graphic novel is a great read for someone looking to get out of a reading slump, or getting into reading altogether. The visuals are appealing, and the story itself is fresh. Instead of focusing solely on Tiến, we get to see various fairy tales unfold to tell his story through different voices. 

Realtime Panel
Kayla Hartman

We first settle into Tiến and his mother as central characters before they read variations of fairy tales ranging from Cinderella to the Little Mermaid. The stories are spun to bring readers closer to these main characters. The two use them as a vehicle to communicate with each other when they feel that words can’t do their message justice.

Panels of the fairytales (colored in cool blue) would transition to the panels of Tiến and his mother’s real-life (colored in warm red). The switches help make the parallels between the family and the fairytales clear. They helped to make the graphic novel feel cohesive– despite the multiple plot lines. Using many characters and side plots holds risk for a book like this, but Nguyen manages to hold the storyline together and blend the sequences solidly.

Fairytale panel of The Magic Fish
Kayla Hartman

After the story ends, Nguyen describes how his own childhood influenced the premise of the novel. Any questions you have about the creative process will likely be answered in this section. He explains the origins of the fairytales he used and the significance they bring to Tiến’s story. We also learn why the characters act and look a certain way, especially concerning their environment and the time period they were in. I enjoyed this section greatly; it’s not often that readers can easily access such in-depth clarification on the author’s intention and their procedures.

The Magic Fish is a unique and eye-catching coming-of-age story that people of all ages can have fun with. Happy Pride month!


The review was written in exchange for a copy from Penguin Random Publishing House.