Fifteen-year-old Jackie Stone’s whole life turns upside down when she discovers not only that her father has a terminal brain tumor, but that he’s decided to auction his life for sale on ebay. As a reality show executive takes control of her family’s lives, Jackie’s whole life begins to come apart. She finds allies in an online community and the courage to fight for her privacy and her family’s dignity. Together they fight to get the cameras out of the house and win her family’s lives back.
Life in a Fishbowl is totally different than Vlahos’s earlier novels. The story follows the experiences of many characters, most of them adults, which kind of breaks tradition in young adult literature. I think what keeps it grounded in the genre is the tone which the story takes. Not many authors can successfully craft a story like this and have it still feel like young adult fiction, but Vlahos does here.
One of the more surprising elements to me was the fact that the brain tumor was an anthropomorphized character as well. At some moments, I struggled with this—it definitely requires a lot of willingness to suspend disbelief. At other moments, it felt like a natural turn in the story. I loved Jackie’s character, but my real favorites were Hazel, an online gaming girl, and Max, Jackie’s friend from Russia. Both really hit that note for me of the shy kids who have so much more going on under the surface. Jackie also had that vibe, too, and the story shows each of them blossoming in the midst of adversity.
The story deals with whether someone has the right to euthanasia. Mostly we see the issue from the side of Jared, who himself wants to have the right to end his life—to have a death with dignity, he says. Members of the Catholic Church oppose him, but there’s not a deep exploration of their position on the issue, and the nun who protests the loudest has her own ulterior motives which only twist further the more deeply she becomes involved in the situation.
The way this plays out was very different from the sort of romanticized version of events in The Loose Ends List by Carrie Firestone, in which terminally ill cruise passengers opt for assisted suicide sometimes earlier in their illnesses.
The issue that truly dominates Life in a Fishbowl is less the issue of euthanasia and more the issue of reality television and the invasion of privacy that other members of Jared’s family suffer once he has signed a contract with the studio. Events get edited and clipped into scenes that look vastly different to the public than the reality Jackie and her family face. Ratings, not reality, govern the show, and cameras lurk in every room, recording everything. Eventually Jackie finds ways to fight fire with fire, releasing her own video clips that show the truth happening inside her home.
Jackie and her family live in Portland, Oregon and appear to be an average, white middle-class family. She befriends a young Russian boy online as part of a school project.
Profanity/Crude Language Content
Extreme profanity used with moderate frequency.
Jackie and her sister discover their parents in the act of making love. They quietly back away and close the door.
Some brief references to a sexual relationship between an executive and his assistant. No descriptions of their intimate activities.
Jared remembers his first kiss ever and his first kiss with his wife.
Hidden TV cameras record in bathrooms in Jackie’s house. It’s mentioned in passing that unbeknownst to her family, male members of the crew watch the girls shower. Jackie is fifteen and her sister Megan younger.
A nun bids for Jared Stone’s life on ebay. She considers it a sacred duty to preserve his life, but her motives get swallowed by other, less pious reasons. Her superior also takes the stance that Jared should not be allowed to end his life. When the Catholic hospital becomes responsible for Jared’s medical care, the goal is to keep him alive as long as possible, which conflicts with his own desire to end his life.
Violent Content – see spoiler section
A woman slaps a teenage girl. She retaliates by punching the woman.
A TV executive manipulates Jackie and her family (and others) for his own gain. His behavior isn’t violent, but it’s pretty disturbing at times.
Brief references to drug use in a character’s past.
SPOILERS – Violent Content Continued
A man stabs a dog to death with a knife.
A woman smothers a man in a coma with a pillow. Before he slipped into a coma, he asked her to assist him in ending his life.