The Minnow by Diana Sweeney

Title: the minnowThe Minnow

Author: Diana Sweeney

Genre: YA contemporary

Length: 256 pages

Published by: Text Publishing

Published on: 28th May 2014

Source: received from Text Publishing in exchange for review (thanks, Text!)


Tom survived a devastating flood that claimed the lives of her sister and parents. Now she lives with Bill in his old shed by the lake. But it’s time to move out—Tom is pregnant with Bill’s baby.

Jonah lets her move in with him. Mrs Peck gives her the Fishmaster Super Series tackle box. Nana is full of gentle good advice and useful sayings.

And in her longing for what is lost, Tom talks to fish: Oscar the carp in the pet shop, little Sarah catfish who might be her sister, an unhelpful turtle in a tank at the maternity ward. And the minnow.

The Minnow is a moving and powerful coming of age story with a whimsical element that belies the heartbreaking truth of grief and loss. Tom is a character you will never forget.

Like all before me, I love this cover SO SO much. In the paperback version (you can’t really see just from the image) some of the images on the front are silver and shiny. That’s one of the reasons I wanted to read it. The others were that 1) it won the Text Prize in 2013,  2) it sounded amazing and 3) Text’s books have never disappointed me.

And I’m glad to say that I was not disappointed.

Ways to describe The Minnow: beautiful writing. Breathtaking imagery. Questions of reality. Counting sheep. An unusual protagonist. Past and present. And, of course, the Minnow.

So Tom is our protagonist. It’s a nickname – her real name is Holly, but I won’t tell you why she’s called Tom. Not that it’s a spoiler, but you can read for yourself why she’s called that. And I love Tom. She’s a character you wouldn’t see in any other YA book. She talks to fish (and they talk back). She talks to some of her dead relatives, especially her Papa. She talks to her unborn baby, whom she calls the Minnow. This created a sense of magic, I suppose, and is one of the most unique forms of storytelling I’ve ever had the pleasure to read.

A lot of it was just so calming. 

Not that the story was calming, exactly. There was a lot of heartache and sadness and confusion. I mean, Tom’s a fifteen-year-old girl who’s pregnant – that’s not the easiest thing to go through. But the way the story was told, the slow pace, the heavy use of water-based imagery made for a really lovely read.

I should explain the counting sheep thing. I mentioned it before in how I would describe The Minnow. It was just a short section, but for some reason I really loved it. You know how counting sheep is supposed to make you fall asleep? This books describes an alternative version. Not sure why I’m devoting a whole paragraph to it, but that’s just one of the many examples of things that are re-imagined, the versions of reality that are recrafted to create this utterly incredible debut.

It made me want to be a better writer. In one of my first drafts, the main character has a pet spider who she talks to. It’s contemporary YA, and that’s the only non-realistic thing in it. I kind of thought that wasn’t allowed. But this book breaks all the rules, and I’d love to experiment with surrealism, which I’ve encountered often in drama but rarely in YA contemporary.

Then there’s the Minnow! I mean, the book is named after the Minnow. She is Tom’s unborn baby. Tom talks to the Minnow, and she talks back, and it’s generally just adorable and different. Throughout the book, there’s no explanation about why/how/if Tom is actually talking to dead people and fish, but that just adds to the mystery and whimsy. Don’t overthink it! Just go with the flow. 

It was a little confusing at some points, and I think some things could have done with more explanation. It’s a difficult balance when you write a novel this unique, because if you explain TOO much, it loses that incredible writing quality. But I think even a tiny bit more explanation, or even transition into the past/present, would have helped.

If you enjoy characters over plot, talking to animals and beautiful writing, you should definitely give it a go.

Comparison books: 

bird crystal chan girl saves boy

Bird by Crystal Chan and Girl Saves Boy by Steph Bowe – both Text books, both unique and incredibly well-written.

Rating: 4/5 Wonderkitties





19 thoughts on “The Minnow by Diana Sweeney

  1. …OK, no wonder I hadn’t heard of this book until recently. 😛 Because all of a sudden I’m seeing great reviews of it on Goodreads, and I didn’t know why I hadn’t heard of it before. But it was released recently, I see… great review!

    (Also, I love all your recent posts about diverse books! I write about that kind of thing on my own blog a lot, so it’s nice to see that others agree.)

  2. This book sounds like it might be similar in style to On the Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta and I love that book, so I will definitely have to check this one out! Thanks for the great review and for sharing your thoughts with us, Emily. 🙂

  3. I officially adore the socks off Text Publishing. THEY ARE AMAZING. x) Bird and Girl Saves Boy…and now The Minnow? *swoons* I loved this book a lot, although I agree I was super confused. The calming-ness was beautiful. But I probably couldn’t handle it as an audio book. o.O I would probably snooze! I also adored the Minnow. So stinkin’ cute!!

  4. Great review Emily! I agree that this book looks amazing, and books from Text are always so different and endearing. Glad to hear that you liked it, I love the sound of the beautiful imagery and interesting characters. This is definitely moving up my TBR!

  5. Pingback: What Happened This Week: handwriting challenge and TFIOS hit theatres | The Loony Teen Writer

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