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Plot Summary


L. S. Matthews

Fiction | Novel | Middle Grade | Published in 2004

Plot Summary

In Fish (2004) by L.S. Matthews, narrator Tiger's parents are aid workers in an unnamed war-torn country. As conditions worsen, the family, their guide, and his donkey must make the dangerous trek to the border with Tiger's rescued fish in tow. Details of the novel are left ambiguous, with few names and places mentioned in this first-person narrative, and even Tiger's gender is unclear.

As the novel opens, Tiger has seen a fish flipping in a puddle outside his home. Drought and then extensive flooding have ravaged the area. The rapid changes caused a landslide that decimated much of the village, despite Mum and Dad's efforts to help. Any leftover rainwater is undrinkable, and the fish is trying desperately to breathe in the muddy water. It is the only live animal Tiger has seen in a while.

Tiger arrives at his family's home as they are preparing to leave, as the last few people in the village have fled. Tiger convinces his parents that he must save the fish, and they eventually agree, strapping it to his back in a pot. A local man is to guide them to the border, and they pack their belongings on his donkey's back. The guide tells Tiger to call him "Guide," and we learn that Tiger earned his nickname because he was a small, unwell baby, but was quite the fighter.

After a few days of walking, they reach the border, and the guards turn them away, as Guide suspected they might. The group will have to go through the mountains to the border of another country.

Tiger's feet are damaged from walking and Dad carries him. They are heading across a dried riverbed of thick mud, and Dad sinks into a deeper part of the mud with Tiger still on his back. In the process of getting the two free, the fish's pot strapped to Tiger's back falls into the mud. As it is sinking, Mum manages to scoop Fish out and put him in a water bottle. Tiger now rides on the donkey's back.

They camp on the bank and Tiger is awoken by the sound of his own whimpering. He sees a wild dog drop a dead rabbit near him. The next morning, the group discusses it, determining that the wolf must have mistaken Tiger's sounds for the whining of a hungry cub.

Tiger's feet have healed, and the group heads up the mountain pass. Frightened by a wild dog, the donkey begins to fall, but they manage to save her when Dad cuts loose half of the family's packs, losing all of their food and all but one bottle of water.

That night, as they are waiting for Guide to come back from hunting, three men with guns come to the family's campsite. Tiger calls the men "Stocky," "Leader," and "the youngest man." Dad speaks to them, and they soon realize that Stocky received aid from Mum and Dad in the village. When Guide returns, Dad tells the three men Guide's name (Tiger says it's "too hard to pronounce"). The youngest man insists that can't be right because he was close with Guide's family and the whole family died, including Guide. Guide says the young man's name; the man is bewildered and a little afraid. The three men leave when they realize the group has no food.

Along the path the next day, someone shoots at the group and Tiger runs and hides. When he emerges, he can't find his family and decides to continue along the path. He crawls into a little cave and is on a ledge above a cavern when he sees the three men from the night before on the cavern floor below him. Tiger realizes that Stocky is the one who had shot at them.

As Tiger watches, the men get into an argument. Stocky shoots the young man and the young man flees. Leader and Stocky chase after him. Tiger jumps down, running out of the cave in the opposite direction. Hears the men chasing him, he leaps into an old stream that is now thick with mud. After nearly drowning, he makes his way out of the mud and finds the dead body of the young man on the bank. His parents and Guide find Tiger sitting there. Everyone is unscathed.

Climbing down the pass, Tiger falls from exhaustion, damaging Fish's bottle. Mum pours Fish onto a cooking tray. Tiger soon collapses again, but Dad rescues Fish, convincing Tiger to hold him in his mouth for the last leg of the journey.

They finally reach the border guard who agrees to let them pass, as the country they are trying to enter is friendly with the home country of Tiger's family. The guard gives them a bottle of water and Tiger spits Fish into it. The family rides in the car to a refugee camp with Guide following behind.

Tiger wakes up that night in a clean bed hooked up to an IV. Guide is with him and takes him into a building that has shelves full of bottles, each with a fish. Tiger sees Fish, and he seems brighter and bigger than ever before.

The next morning, Tiger's parents are at his bedside. Fish is on the table beside him, and the border guard offers to take Fish to a river he knows that never dries up. Tiger happily hands Fish over. Mum and Dad are worried about Guide, whom they haven't seen since they left the border. Tiger tells them not to worry; he saw Guide last night and.

Hope is a significant theme in Fish. Tiger's perception of Fish fluctuates with his hope. When fish is first in the water bottle, he seems tiny to Tiger, and he asks if fish can shrink. At the end of their journey, Fish is the biggest he has ever been.

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