Atlantic Books Today admires Amphibian

By Megan Venner
Atlantic Books Today
November 6 2009

Though it may be mistaken for a children’s book upon reading the back cover, Amphibian is a richly told reminder to people of all ages of the simplicity and wisdom of a nine-year-old boy. Encompassing many of the ageless human frailties from anxiety to loneliness to victimization in Phineas William Walsh, Carla Gunn has masterfully created a relatable and readable young hero. In Amphibian, we see the world through the eyes of this young eco-warrior. It is a scary place where animals and people die, parents leave and buying toilet paper is cause for concern because, as Walsh puts it, how would you feel ‘if someone came to your house, chopped it down and hauled it away to wipe his butt?’

Whether it’s in the classroom where Phin’s teacher asks questions that make no sense and ignores his worries about the Australian tree frog kept as a classroom pet, or at home where his parents have recently separated and his mother is so concerned about Phin’s anxiety she has him seeing a psychiatrist, Gunn weaves a beautifully compelling picture of a world we all experienced but have left far behind.

Phin’s encyclopedic knowledge of the animal kingdom sometimes confuses and at other times aids his struggle to understand the behaviour of the adults in his world. His uncompromising logic and his deep worry for the state of the world give him a unique voice, but it is in his attempt to understand the sadness in his world where young Phin is most profound. ‘There are some things that are just too sad to say all at once. There need to be spaces between – spaces to absorb some of the sadness, like a sponge.’

The uncluttered mind of this young boy asks questions the adults in his life can’t or won’t answer like ‘Why do people tell kids that we’re all equal and to treat everybody equally if that’s no the way the real world is?’ His insight is compelling and is a reminder that a dose of childhood simplicity is good therapy for us all.

Related Content
Related Contributors: 
Related Titles: