Fish in a Tree

Fish in a Tree

Fish in a Tree Chapter 4 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Ally walks all the way to where Mom works, a restaurant called A. C. Petersen Farms. Mom is worried that Ally is late but tells her to sit at the counter and do her homework. She says that the school called her about the baby shower incident but instead of sounding mad, Mom sounds sad. Ally looks at a tray of ice cream, imagines drawing rivers of ice cream, and miserably apologizes when Mom calls her back to reality. Ally says she thought Mrs. Hall would like the card. Mom is incredulous.
Mom's reaction to what happened suggests that like Ally's teachers, she also believes that Ally is doing this on purpose. This shows that all the adults in Ally's life are failing her by not considering other explanations for her poor behavior and school performance, and reinforces the dependence that children have on adults to help them succeed.
Themes
Dyslexia, Intelligence, and Learning Theme Icon
Teaching, Mentoring, and Trust Theme Icon
Ally opens her book and wonders how other people can read the dancing letters. Instead of doing her homework, she imagines dinosaurs drinking coffee and watching a meteor head towards earth. She grabs a napkin and starts to draw so she can put it in the Sketchbook of Impossible Things later.
Because Ally believes that she's dumb, she also believes that everyone sees letters that move like she does—which, per her logic, means that she's somehow less capable than her classmates, not just different.
Themes
Dyslexia, Intelligence, and Learning Theme Icon
Soon, Ally notices Mom in front of her. Ally looks up and explains that she didn't know the card was a sympathy card. Mom laughs and compliments Ally's napkin drawing. She says that Grandpa would be proud of how hard Ally is working on her art, and that he'd also be thrilled that she named the Sketchbook of Impossible Things after Alice in Wonderland. Mom reminisces that Grandpa loved sharing that book with her and with Ally, and Ally thinks the world in that book makes perfect sense to her. They sadly admit that they miss Grandpa.
The Sketchbook of Impossible Things is a way for Ally to escape from reality by drawing things that are just as fantastical as what one might find in Alice in Wonderland. This then speaks to Ally's sense of alienation in the real world she inhabits, since due to not being able to read, her world seems just as nonsensical to her as Wonderland did to Alice.
Themes
Identity and Self-Esteem Theme Icon
Bullying, Friendship, and Social Status Theme Icon
Ally hears Shay and Jessica come into the restaurant. Shay feigns concern that Ally didn't return to class, and Ally tries to make Mom be quiet when Mom suggests the girls sit together. Shay and Jessica finally sit at the bar a few seats away and surreptitiously mock Ally. Mom takes their ice cream orders and though Jessica orders strawberry, she changes her order to chocolate after Shay orders chocolate.
Jessica's choice to change her order speaks to the degree to which she idolizes Shay and wants to emulate her in every way possible. In doing so, Jessica subsumes her own identity and denies herself the opportunity to ever experiment and come to her own conclusions.
Themes
Bullying, Friendship, and Social Status Theme Icon
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While Mom is in the kitchen, Jessica and Shay laugh that Ally's mom is a waitress. Shay says that Ally could be a waitress if she could read the ice cream flavors. Ally flushes, afraid they know her secret. She remembers reading aloud after she first moved here. She'd misread that macaroni swim 20 miles per hour, not manatees, and when everyone laughed, she pretended she'd said it on purpose.
Ally will later discover that her inability to read is no secret to her classmates; what matters, however, is who cares (Shay) and who doesn't. Shay's insult about Mom shows that what Shay prioritizes most is money, as being a waitress is historically a job that pays poorly.
Themes
Dyslexia, Intelligence, and Learning Theme Icon
Bullying, Friendship, and Social Status Theme Icon
Ally sneaks into the back room and hides behind a shelf of cans and bottles. She looks at the labels and thinks she can never get away from words. Ally remembers how, in second grade, her teacher wrote something and asked her what it said. As usual, Ally didn't know, but she felt humiliated when the teacher said it was her name. Ally tries not to cry as Mom appears. Ally won't say what's wrong, since she knows how happy it made Mom to think that she has friends. Ally goes back to the counter and wonders if this year is going to be the worst ever.
This moment shows that Ally wants desperately to be normal, if only to make Mom happy. Her loneliness and sense that she's not normal is a result of not being able to read, which points to the degree to which inclusion in society rests on a person's ability to appear "normal."
Themes
Dyslexia, Intelligence, and Learning Theme Icon
Identity and Self-Esteem Theme Icon
Bullying, Friendship, and Social Status Theme Icon