Plot/Idea: Readers will be swept into the ebbs and tides of Blue’s life, including her tumultuous relationship with her mother and her spot-on portrayal of society’s marginalization of certain communities. Blue eschews common stereotypes, bringing warmth and life to those citizens who are vilified and relegated to an inferior status.
Prose: Blue writes with expertise and flair, and her polished style illustrates the stark differences between the homeless population of San Francisco and its posh neighborhoods oozing wealth. This is a nearly flawless memoir, written with grace and finesse.
Originality: Blue’s skillful development of underlying themes gives the book notable depth, and she relays those themes through edge-of-your seat storytelling and a stellar sense of timing.
Character/Execution: Blue is unforgettable in her nimble treatment of a devastating lifestyle that is punctuated by beautiful moments, despite the harsh circumstances. Her personality flourishes, eclipsing the darkest moments in the memoir with a glimmer of hope that carries through to the end, and her purpose—to shed light on the resilience of disregarded populations—is unmistakable throughout.
Date Submitted: October 06, 2023
A Fish Has No Word for Water is a memoir constantly in motion. As it opens we learn Violet Blue’s mother, a former engineer and hacker turned cocaine dealer, is an erstwhile member of the witness protection program. Violet comes home from school one day, at the age thirteen, and finds her Mother has skipped out. Now homeless, she falls in with a group of punks who help her learn the ways of the streets such as which restaurants will give you food, who to watch out for, and how to find a safe place to sleep. “You gotta decide your rules right away,” she is told by her new friend, Rogue, “and you can never, ever break them.”
There is a stark contrast between learning how to live on the streets and the beautiful Victorian mansions draped in the ever present fog. These contrasts are seen throughout (example: a Jewish Nazi skinhead) and drives home the point that nothing’s for certain and tomorrow is never promised. Sharp dialogue, incisive observations, and polished prose power the book: “Both neighborhoods were broken fables with people dying in the street,” she writes, of the Castro and the Haight.
Takeaway: Superb memoir of a punk’s life on the streets in 1980s San Francisco.
Comparable Titles: Aaron Cometbus’s Despite Everything: A Cometbus Omnibus, Janice Erlbaum’s Girlbomb: A Halfway Homeless Memoir.
Design and typography: A
Marketing copy: A
"A gripping account of survival and a condemnation of the conditions that marginalize and endanger the unsheltered." —KIRKUS