The Language of Goldfish Summary
The Language of Goldfish is a coming of age novel featuring Carrie Stokes, a confused 13-year-old girl on the verge of a mental breakdown. Carrie is the middle child in an affluent, seemingly happy family, and she is struggling with insecurities about growing up and forming relationships with other people. Carrie lives in a chaotic world within her head, and her absorption with her own thoughts leads her to believe that she is going insane. She describes herself as a piece from a different puzzle, one that will never fit into the ordered world she sees around her. Carrie does not understand her illness for a long time; she knows that she suffers from "dizzy spells" and she knows that she is afraid of moving from the safety of childhood to the uncertainty of adulthood. Feeling alienated from her parents and plagued by increasingly frightening "spells," she eventually attempts suicide. But with the help of psychiatric counseling and the therapeutic expression of painting, she slowly begins to heal.
Carrie Stokes is a typical adolescent in many ways, but she is atypical in her obsession with childhood and her irrational fear of moving forward. Oneal explores the workings of Carrie's mind as she chronicles her journey to mental health. Oneal's novels typically deal with teenagers in conflict with other people as well as with their own emotions, and Carrie's world is full of conflict. But she eventually learns to work through the conflict and accept herself and other people for what they are. Carrie goes through a metamorphosis in the novel, changing from being a troubled child to a confident young woman. By the end of the novel she has learned to accept change, to separate reality from illusion, and to move forward and leave the security of childhood behind.