Sticklebacks and Snowglobes is a story of tangled destinies unravelled and made sense of by an eight-year-old girl called Tot, a child as yet untouched by hormones, and whose belief system is shored up by fishing nets, a healthy respect for exploding saints and faith in both the inherent goodness of people and in the way things are.
Set in the early 1970s, this debut novel re-creates life in a British public-housing development. Though the point of view varies, the principal one belongs to eight-year-old Tot, whose trumpet-playing father dreams of a new life as a jazz musician in New Orleans. Money and class play large thematic parts in most of the novel's sequence of episodes. Tot's neighbor is a formerly wealthy manufacturer who has lost his money; Tot's older sister dreams of marrying up but only manages to get herself pregnant; Tot's best friend's father is an unemployed laborer who enjoys sticking it to the rich, etc. The best part of the story involves Tot's befriending an Indian boy, whose immigrant family is routinely subjected to taunts and cruel practical jokes. Unfortunately, generosity of spirit too often turns into sentimentality here; nevertheless, Goodjohn's novel conveys a quiet air of authority and a sense of having been lived.
— Michael Cart
In this magical debut, working-class British council-estate life becomes a sort of quotidian wonderland starring children clever and strange and very real. Eight-year-old Tot is a glass child, an epileptic always with a wary eye out for the pouncing arrival of Kit-the-Fit, her personification of the seizures that wet her knickers and send her tongue fluttering. Her dad, a sweetheart, good-for-little dreamer, sometimes mistakes her writhing for doing Stevie, his nod to the jerking dance moves of his idol, Motown master Stevie Wonder. Trumpeter for the Blue Notes, a ragtag Dixieland crew swinging the corner pub, he fantasizes splitting for The Big Easy. Goodjohn's got a winsome soft spot, but she's a tough naturalist, too, so she actually has dad abandon the wife and kids. Which leaves Tot mourning, collecting snow globes and fishing for stickleback in company with the Our Gang of the Stanley Close tenement, new arrival Keesal, who's Paki and picked-on, Seamus the Retard and his brother Michael, football-star dreamboat. Terrific Glitter-Decade detail (Tot dreams about Bianca Jagger, Farrah Fawcett's vinyl jumpsuit and really killer platform boots) alternates with dead-on musings about dead-end politics. The stars around Tot's moon, her stuck-up mom and sister Dorothy ( Queen of Ladylike ) and Catholic-school daredevil Lily ( who had touched a dead man's face in a funeral parlor ) are the tenement's hard-suffering regiment of women, their lives filled with ordinary joy and loss until Dorothy shocks the neighbors with her pregnancy. And Tot's poetic look at life turns worldly wise. A cozy, richly written delight.
— Kirkus (starred review)
From Publishers Weekly
Goodjohn's debut follows the inhabitants of Stanley Close, a housing project outside of London that's home to the Thompson family. Donald Thompson is a trumpet player with hopes of moving to New Orleans to play, even though following his dream means leaving behind his wife, Elaine; teenage daughter Dorothy; and eight-year-old epileptic daughter Tot. Donald tells Tot of his secret plan, and she promises not to tell anyone as long as he brings her back a snow globe to add to her collection. Tot, meanwhile, strikes a deal with God that if she catches seven stickleback fish over the course of seven Saturdays (and sacrifices them), her father will return. Subplots concerning other residents involve, among others, Gerald Damson, who lost his former home, sold most of his possessions and suspects his wife is flirting with the rent man.
— ©Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.