I enjoyed Kate’s previous YA novels The Accident and The Finder and so was very keen to read her new book Fish Out of Water (published by Text). Kate speaks about it here at PaperbarkWords.
Kate Hendrick on Fish Out of Water:
At fifteen, Finn knows exactly who he is. He’s Finn the swimmer, who works hard and wins. But then he unexpectedly loses a race, makes a snap decision to quit, and for the first time faces the question of who he is when he’s not following the black line at the bottom of a pool.
With this book, my focus was on exploring the idea of choices. The great thing about YA and teen protagonists is that, for most of us, adolescence is a time of dawning awareness. It’s when we first start to comprehend that we can make our own decisions about who we are and what we believe; that perhaps the person we have started as is not the person we wish to continue as. Additionally, it can feel like there’s pressure to decide these things, like the clock is ticking and you have to sort out who you are before you hit adulthood. So in examining the idea of choices, it was not only the actual choices a person makes – about their ambitions, their faith, their sexuality – but also the factors that affect their decision making.
As Finn discovers, it seems like everybody has their own opinions on what he should do. These reflect the persistent, often guilt-inducing narratives in our society about teenagers: about good and bad choices, right and wrong paths to take; always a great way to pile on some additional pressure at an already tumultuous time in life. In this book, my characters explore and challenge some of these ideas. ‘There is no right or wrong choice,’ Finn scoffs early on. ‘There’s just choices.’ But as the story progresses, he finds the simplicity of this assertion challenged. In contrast to Finn, who tends to make his decisions in a self-absorbed vacuum, the other characters in the story wrestle with the weight of familial and cultural expectations: guilt about past decisions, and reluctance to pursue their desires for fear of disappointing those around them.
The title, Fish Out of Water, is a well-known metaphor describing a situation where we find ourselves out of our comfort zone. For Finn, who has always felt more comfortable in the water out of it, it is a both a metaphorical and (almost) literal description of his journey as he tries to navigate life out of the pool. He is forced into uncomfortable conversations, faced with uncomfortable feelings, and troubled by uncomfortable memories from his past.
At the end of the story, I deliberately avoided tying up every loose end too neatly, because things rarely work out that way in real life. While Finn has made some decisions about who he wants to be, choosing our identity is not a once-off decision, but a series of ongoing reflections and choices. And as Finn eventually realises, sometimes in life there’s no such thing as a simple choice. Sometimes, in fact, there’s no choice at all.