‘Being Fishkill’ by Ruth Lehrer Is a Heartbreaking Young Adult Novel About Those Born into Despair

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“Being Fishkill” by Ruth Lehrer is a book that will break your heart and force you to think about the horrors that a troubled family may engender. If you are born into a family filled with incest, abuse, and poverty, your choices, your life, and your future may be forfeit to a fate from which you cannot escape.

Fishkill Carmel, who was named after the exits that the car she was born in was passing at the moment of her birth, has lived the first twelve years of her life with her illiterate mother and her extremely abusive grandfather. When her grandfather dies and her mother disappears, she lives on her own in their cabin. But after befriending Duk-Duk at school, life turns around for Fishkill. For a while.

The first person narrative helps flesh out Fishkill’s character, and her thoughts reveal not only what she is thinking, but also what she does not understand. The other characters, Duk-Duk, her best (and only) friend, is delightfully quirky but also far from perfect. Duk-Duk’s mother, Molly, is blatantly gay, and a mother whom any child would be lucky to have. Lehrer has thought of even small details that make the story so real that readers will be bereft when things get bad.

Within the ups and downs of Fishkill’s life over the course of the story, the reader will wonder at the resilience of her soul — her ability to feel positive and part of a family after the beginning she has endured. But the reader will also be torn about feelings towards Fishkill’s mother. Mature readers and any adult reading this who can read between the lines will feel the struggle between anger and sympathy at the predicament of Fishkill’s mother — for her life’s fortunes will never improve.

After reading this book, the reader will have many questions. How is it that children like Fishkill can fall through the cracks? Why does our society allow children to live in these kinds of situations? And why is the type of bullying that is pervasive in the middle school allowed to continue, even when we know that lives are lost because of it?

This is a book that would be a great classroom read for eighth grade through high school, and there would be deep and heartfelt discussions that would surely result from this moving novel.

Please note: This review is based on the advanced reader’s copy provided by Candlewick Press, the publisher, for review purposes.

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