Lisa Thompson’s debut YA novel is a gripping mystery wrapped around a superbly created central character who within a few pages becomes one of the most compelling fictional creations since Christopher Boone in Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time seven years ago. Thompson has hit the spot with her first novel, a page-turning issue-driven story with enormous commercial appeal.
Twelve-year old Matthew Corbin is trapped at home by Obsessive Compulsive-Disorder (OCD), a condition neither he nor his parents understand. Unable to attend school or interact with other kids because of his massive fear of germs, Matthew has become a watcher of life outside the goldfish bowl of his bedroom.
With his hands always covered with rubber gloves, Matthew struggles with his fear. He would live in a germ-free cocoon if he could. But this isn’t possible, so he has to avoid germs at all costs. Germs are the enemy, and it’s a constant battle to make sure he stays away from other humans, the chief carriers of deadly germs.
From the safety of his window, Matthew stares outside and watches the world go by. His parents are becoming more and more frustrated by his condition, and they don’t know how to help him. How has he got like this? A twelve-year old boy should be out there playing with his mates.
Back in 1954, the film director Alfred Hitchcock made a famous thriller called Rear Window about a newspaper photographer with a broken leg who passes time recuperating by watching his neighbours through his window. He sees what he believes to be a murder, and decides to solve the crime himself. The Goldfish Boy is Rear Window for teenage readers - and anyone else who enjoys page-turning read.
One day, Matthew is watching when an expensive-looking black car draws up in front of one of the houses in the street below. Mr Charles, an elderly gentleman who keeps himself to himself, lives here and he doesn’t usually have visitors. An elegant looking woman gets out of the car, dragging two small kids behind her.
This must be Mr Charles’ daughter and the two kids his grandchildren. Matthew smiles to himself when the woman drives off a short while later - minus children. Mr Charles, grumpy at the best of times, isn’t going to like having two small children dumped on him.
A few days later, all hell breaks out in the street under Matthew’s window. One of Mr Charles’ grandchildren has gone missing. One minute toddler Teddy was playing in the garden, and the next minute he wasn’t there. The police are called, and search parties organised. But Teddy has gone missing. Has he been kidnapped or has he simply wandered off?
Matthew vows to solve the mystery of the disappearance. It isn’t going to be easy, but he has seen things that no one else has seen. But how is he going to play detective when he can’t leave the safety of his bedroom?
Lisa Thompson’s The Goldfish Boy is a gripping mystery and an emotional character study all rolled into one special YA novel. It may only be February, here we already have one of the Books of the Year.
John Millen can be contacted on MillenBookshelf@aol.com.