The Goldfish Boy

Book review by
Andrea Beach, Common Sense Media
The Goldfish Boy Book Poster Image
Intriguing mystery inspires empathy for kids with OCD.

Parents say

age 10+
Based on 2 reviews

Kids say

age 10+
Based on 4 reviews

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A lot or a little?

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

Educational Value

Some facts about obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). Details about what it's like to live with OCD will inspire empathy.

Positive Messages

You'll miss out on a lot in life if you spend it waiting for things to get better. You have to take action and do something yourself to make things better. Letting people get to know you and taking the chance to get to know them can help you feel less alone and different once you realize that lots of people feel the same way. Talking about your feelings makes you feel better and helps others understand you and be able to help you.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Matthew wants to help find the missing toddler and finds ways he can help even when he can't bring himself to leave his house. He finds the courage to do things that are scary or make him uncomfortable and learns that he can do more than he thought. His parents are loving but not very understanding and sometimes say and do hurtful things. Friend Melody is persistent, understanding, and willing to help however she can. Few adults in Matthew's neighborhood are what they seem. A 7-year-old girl shows some sociopathic behavior.

Violence & Scariness

Main plot is about the disappearance of a toddler from his grandfather's front yard. Blood mentioned from accidentally getting poked by a rose thorn. Matthew remembers overhearing his pregnant mother mention that there's blood when she was on the way to the hospital. A young girl pushes her baby brother into a pond and watches while he thrashes around in deep water. A man throws a bucket of water on a cat and tries to kick it. A boy grabs a girl's wrist and takes her picture with his cell phone. Lots of memories, trauma, and guilt around the death five years ago of Matthew's baby brother, who did not survive long enough to come home from the hospital; the exact circumstances are never explained. Matthew accidentally burns himself by washing his hands with bleach but can't stop himself until his mom gets him some latex gloves.


"Damn it." A PE teacher verbally bullies his students.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Goldfish Boy is about 12-year-old Matthew, who suffers from OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder) and almost never leaves his room. There's some mild scariness when a toddler disappears, and Matthew frequently revisits his feelings of guilt over the death of a baby brother a few years before. As far as strong language, there's only one "damn it," but a PE teacher verbally bullies his students. Matthew is a positive role model for finding the courage to do things he's scared of and learning that he can do more than he thinks he can. He'll also help kids understand a bit about OCD and inspire empathy for those who suffer with it. A disliked adult character sneaks out of his house to smoke at night.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byAuts32 May 9, 2021

Enjoyed It, but...

I really enjoyed the book until the end. In my opinion, the end felt rushed and anticlimactic. Overall it was a fun read though.
Parent Written bymervson August 15, 2017

Surprisingly good

Goldfish Boy is a well-written story that not only grabs you with the main mystery but with sub plots and character development. The internal struggle with OCD... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written byZoeyottenweller April 11, 2020


This is a great book for kids and has good life lessons in it.
Kid, 11 years old March 22, 2021

Amazing mystery.

This is an amazing book, with a clever and captivative storyline and premise. It has excellent red herrings and plot. Violence is limited to a kidnap (the main... Continue reading

What's the story?

Twelve-year-old Matthew got the nickname THE GOLDFISH BOY because he spends all his time in his bedroom, too afraid to go outside. His obsessive compulsive disorder makes him afraid that he'll bring in germs from the outside world that will make his loved ones sick and possibly die. From his upstairs windows he watches all the comings and goings on his little cul de sac and takes careful notes of what he sees. Because of this, he was the last person to see his neighbor's grandson Teddy (a 15-month-old toddler) before the child mysteriously disappeared. There are a lot of possible suspects in the neighborhood, and as Matthew tries to crack the case, he learns that very few people, including himself, are what they seem.

Is it any good?

Author Lisa Thompson's first novel is an absorbing, intriguing mystery with a compelling hero who's easy to relate to and root for and a plot with lots of surprising twists and turns. All the characters in The Goldfish Boy are well developed, and big kids and tweens will feel a lot of empathy for 12-year-old Matthew as they learn a bit about OCD and what it's like to live with it.

Parents might want to be ready to answer questions and provide reassurance for questions and fears that might come up due to the strong themes of newborn loss and a toddler who disappears under mysterious circumstances. The story provides good examples of learning to cope, and there's a safe resolution to the mystery. It's a great introduction to the "whodunit" genre and provides good examples about seeing things through, keeping at difficult tasks, critical thinking, and jumping to conclusions.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how The Goldfish Boy shows what it's like to have OCD. Did you know anything about it before you read the book? What did you learn about it?

  • Have you ever had to do something you were afraid to do? What happened? Were you able to find the courage to do it?

  • Did you understand what Old Nina meant when she said, "Don't ever wait for a storm to pass. You've got to go out there and dance in the rain"? What does Matthew think she meant?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love mysteries and stories of mental illness

Themes & Topics

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