Life in a Fishbowl

Book review by
Andrea Beach, Common Sense Media
Life in a Fishbowl Book Poster Image
Quirky terminal-illness tale mixes right to die, reality TV.

Parents say

age 13+
Based on 1 review

Kids say

age 13+
Based on 1 review

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The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Some information about a kind of brain tumor called a glioblastoma multiforme. Link between chromosome 15q and empathy. Some indicators in the brain of violent behavior or lack of conscience. Web surfing releases dopamine and is habit forming. Definition of and arguments for and against euthanasia and right-to-die laws. What the vomeronasal organ is. Lots of anagrams. Some Russian vocabulary.

Positive Messages

Reality shows don't present reality at all. They manipulate people and edit footage to create whatever story or drama they want. You can make big changes, or achieve anything you want, if you go about it a little at a time. Life has no meaning in and of itself, it just is, and it can only be what you make it. Online communities, like multiplayer games, can provide a safe haven for people who get kicked around in real life. But adventures in the real world are ultimately much better. The book takes the position that people with a terminal illness have a right to die with dignity, at a time of their own choosing. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

Large cast of characters, most are good role models and the villains are negative examples. The Stone family is close and tight-knit. Jackie, 15, is the voice of reason. Younger sister Megan is selfish and ambitious but learns how she hurts others when she puts herself first. Parents Jared and Deirdre cope as best they can with a terminal illness, and flashbacks show them as caring and supportive of each other and their kids. Diverse members of an online community outwit one of America's most powerful TV networks by collaborating and thinking critically to find creative solutions.


Spoiler alert: A beloved pet gets stabbed. It's described without gore but is disturbing, and the pet dies. A villain mentions keeping exotic animals and eating their meat. Someone bites her own knuckle and draws blood. An adult slaps a teen in the face, the teen punches back and blood is mentioned. Mention of past custom of disciplining children by swatting with a ruler.


Teens hear their parents making love. An executive assistant feels like a high-priced prostitute because she "does things" for her boss. Sexual depravity mentioned without any detail. One kiss. Past mention of having "carnal relations" with a 14-year-old prostitute. Being "on the rag" mentioned.


"S--t," "f--k," and variations of both, "son of a bitch," "bi-otch," "LMAO," "piss," "c--k," "t--ts," and how to say "little ass" in Russian.


The premise involves an auction on eBay. TV shows, web sites, games, social media, and food and beverage companies establish characters. Mention that advertisers line the pockets of networks and can also influence content.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

A couple of the villains are mentioned drinking, sometimes heavily. Death by overdose mentioned. One character mentioned being on methamphetamines. Mention of opium smugglers getting high. Patient with a brain tumor takes medication and receives treatment. An unpleasant character smokes, some background people smoke. A man has an unlit cigar. Seeing medical personnel smoking makes Jackie wonder briefly if it's really that bad for you.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Life in a Fishbowl is a terminal-illness story with a large cast of characters. A few are teens, but most are adults, and the narration goes back and forth between lots of different points of view. Profanity includes "s--t," "f--k," and variations on both of those. Sexual stuff is rare but there's mention of depravity and prostitution without details. The plot asks moral and ethical questions about assisted suicide, the right to die, auctioning people on eBay, and reality shows. Ultimately, it's in favor of the right to die, providing an opportunity for discussing your family's values surrounding this issue. Spoiler alert: A beloved pet is stabbed and dies.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Parent Written byFelix Avis May 27, 2018


Definitely 13 and uo
Teen, 13 years old Written bytoxxixx April 20, 2020

Really good book

A really good book about a family going through death, illness and many more twists. Worth a read, it will get you fizzing with anger, but also cringing with sa... Continue reading

What's the story?

The Stone family starts their LIFE IN A FISHBOWL when dad Jared is diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor. When he's told that he only has a few months to live, he tries to provide for his family's future by auctioning what's left of his life on eBay. The auction gets shut down, but not before it attracts huge media attention, especially from an up-and-coming network executive who wants to make a reality show about Jared, his family, and his death. Jared's 15-year-old daughter Jackie doesn't want any part of the show, and immediately plots ways to expose the truth of their lives and end the show. Also plotting to intervene are a nun who wants to preserve Jared's life for as long as possible, and one of the world's richest men who wants to buy Jared's life so he can literally hunt for the ultimate prey. In the midst of all the madness, the only thing certain is that time is running out.

Is it any good?

Author Len Vlahos puts a fiendish twist on this terminal-illness story, offering mature readers a lot to think about issues like life coming to an end, reality shows, and lots more. Life in a Fishbowl balances funny and heartbreaking in an effective satire of reality TV that doesn't make light of the end-of-life issues. The many quirky, colorful characters (mostly adults) take turns narrating. Vlahos handles the many points of view well, and the technique adds to the suspense by  moving the story along. There isn't really one main character to focus on, but all the characters are memorable. Glio is certainly one of the most brilliantly insidious villains ever. Jackie, Hazel, and Max are easy to relate to and root for. Have a hankie nearby for the bittersweet ending.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the right to die as it's presented in Life in a Fishbowl. Did reading the book change your mind about this issue? Why, or why not?

  • Is the use of profanity realistic? How much is OK in books, movies, games, etc.?

  • Do you think the way the reality show is put together is realistic? How true-to-life is what you see on those shows?

Book details

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