Fish in a Tree


Lynda Mullaly Hunt

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Fish in a Tree: Chapter 19 Summary & Analysis

Mom smiles when Ally, Albert, and Keisha walk into Petersen's. She seats them in a booth and takes their ice cream order. Albert wants to know if it's free and then suggests that Mr. Daniels isn't a trusting person. He says that Mr. Daniels wanted to know about his bruises and seemed to think they came from Albert's parents, which isn't true. Keisha says that she's also curious where the bruises come from. Quietly, Albert says that a group of bullies beats him up most days after school. When Keisha asks why Albert doesn't hit the bullies back, Albert says he doesn't believe in violence and is afraid he'll be blamed for hitting first.
It's worth noting that as a teacher, Mr. Daniels would be legally obligated to investigate Albert's bruises if he suspected that Albert was a victim of abuse. This investigation then shows that Mr. Daniels is a caring teacher who takes his job and his responsibilities seriously, even if Albert might not see it that way. The disconnect in how they think about this shows that though Mr. Daniels may be doing the right thing, that can still be embarrassing for his students.
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Albert stares at his ice cream and then says it reminds him of Ellis Island. At Keisha's prodding, he says that immigrants on Ellis Island sometimes got ice cream. They didn't know what it was, so they spread it on toast like butter. Albert says he feels as though the same thing is happening to him: the bullies think he's a fighter, so they fight him. Exasperatedly, Keisha says that the bullies fight Albert because he won't fight back. Ally suggests that Albert ask for help from his parents, but Albert says he wants to solve this himself. Keisha points out angrily that he can solve this by fighting back, since he's bigger. Albert says the bullies are like fire ants in that they're small and overwhelming. Ally laughs, though she feels sad.
Again, Albert's assessment of himself in terms of being like the ice cream shows that other people's perceptions have a great deal of power to influence how a person is seen in the world. Though Keisha is likely correct in that the bullies continue to torment Albert because he never makes them stop, it's also likely that he's a target mostly because he looks like a fighter but actually isn't one at all. This suggests that these disconnects in identity can make life even more difficult.
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Keisha continues to angrily try to convince Albert to fight back, while he continues to cite his pacifist beliefs and looks progressively more upset. When Keisha asks Albert what it would take to get him to fight back, Ally tries to engage Albert in a conversation about why he likes science. Albert asks Ally why Shay is so mean to her in particular. Keisha also wants to know.
Though Keisha is held up as a good, strong, no-nonsense character, it's also true that she has a long way to go in terms of learning to empathize with her friends and truly listen to what they're saying. Though the reader is meant to agree with Keisha, she'll need to change her methods if she wants to convince Albert too.
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Hesitantly, Ally says that she won the art award last year, which made Shay angry. And on Ally's second day at school, Ally had to sit next to Shay at lunch. She'd brought a bag of cheese crackers with her and midway through lunch, Shay grabbed the bag and ate the crackers. Ally says she used to have more problems with impulse control, which is why, when Shay pulled a piece of cake out of her lunchbox, Ally reached over and grabbed a hunk of cake in retaliation. Keisha laughs while Albert looks wide-eyed. Ally thinks she hates this story—she knew immediately she'd pay for her behavior. She tells the final part: after lunch, she found her own crackers in her pocket, and realized that Shay thought Ally had grabbed her cake for no reason. Keisha keeps laughing and says it's the best story she's ever heard.
This instance mirrors what happened with the card at the baby shower: because of Ally's dyslexia and the accompanying other symptoms, Ally appears totally out of touch with social norms, which in turn gives Shay ammunition to label Ally a weird kid. However, it's also important to recognize that when Ally stood up for herself in this story, she didn't seem as scared of Shay as she does now. This suggests that things have gotten worse for Ally in the last six months or so since this happened.
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