Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Aquarium” as Want to Read:
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview


3.74  ·  Rating details ·  4,104 ratings  ·  853 reviews
Twelve-year-old Caitlin lives alone with her mother—a docker at the local container port—in subsidized housing next to an airport in Seattle. Each day, while she waits to be picked up after school, Caitlin visits the local aquarium to study the fish. Gazing at the creatures within the watery depths, Caitlin accesses a shimmering universe beyond her own. When she befriends ...more
Hardcover, 266 pages
Published March 3rd 2015 by Atlantic Monthly Press
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Average rating 3.74  · 
Rating details
 ·  4,104 ratings  ·  853 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Start your review of Aquarium
Elyse  Walters
Nov 02, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorite, netgalley
Update again for those interested...
$1.99 Kindle special- again today. I’ve read this book 3 times - had received the ebook early advance Arc copy years ago...
Then bought the hardcopy for myself with the little colored photos of fish. It’s a gorgeous physical book..
And I’ve given this book as a gift a few times.
Is it the best book in the world? Of course not...but am I glad I read it? Absolutely- would not have wanted to miss this one.

I’m still regretful that I didn’t make it to SF the evenin
Will Byrnes
Feb 02, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
(4/25/15 - I added at the bottom a bit on a book tour stop Vann made in Brooklyn)
Anything is possible with a parent. Parents are gods. They make us and they destroy us. They warp the world and remake it in their own shape, and that’s the world we know forever after. It’s the only world. We can’t see what it might have looked like otherwise.
I have no idea how hard my parents’ lives were as kids. By the time I had gained enough self-awareness to seriously wonder, too far into adulthood, they
Shelby *trains flying monkeys*
Twelve year old Caitlyn spends her afternoons at the aquarium. Her over-worked mom buys her a pass so that she can stay there afterschool until her mom gets off work. Caitlyn doesn't mind though because fish are her favorite things.
Palm Springs commercial photography

One afternoon Caitlyn meets an old man that is hanging out at the aquarium. He starts coming everyday to see the fish and to see Caitlyn.
Palm Springs commercial photography

Caitlyn's mom finds out and freaks out. Sure, that the old man is a big old perv bucket and is out to take Caitlyn and run.
Angela M
Nov 05, 2014 rated it it was amazing

One of the things that immediately impressed me about David Vann was how a man could create this narrative from the viewpoint of a 32 year old woman looking back and speaking to us from here 12 year old self . Later I became more impressed that Vann somehow made me want to continue reading after some raw and brutal moments that made me put the book down. But I couldn't put it down for long because I had to know how Caitlin's story would end . I can usually read a 300 page book in 2 or 3 days . T
Fan-effing-tastic!! Favorite book of 2015 so far! My god, what a masterpiece! OMG OMG OMG!!!

I wasn’t planning on reading this book--it wasn’t on my 2015 Challenge List, lol. But a good friend excitedly read me some of the fish poetry. Beauteous! But is there a plot? I need plot! Yes, she assured me. Man oh man is there a plot. And it’s one of the most original stories I’ve ever read. I’m SO glad I veered off course and picked up this gem.

Here’s what it felt like:
Lyrical lyrical fish fish fish. T
Kelly (and the Book Boar)
Find all of my reviews at:

“Origins. They don’t explain us, you know. They never do. Each of us is our own piece of work.”

When I read the premise of Aquarium I immediately decided it was most definitely NOT. FOR. ME. A 12-year old latchkey type of kid who spends her after school hours at the local aquarium and befriends an old man???? Uhhhhhh . . .

But damn this book was persistent. It would not stay off my feed. I finally decided to give it a go based o
Diane S ☔
Nov 02, 2014 rated it really liked it
This book is a full package presentation, exquisitely assembled with the utmost care. The cover resembles iridescent fish scales, shades of silver, pink and aqua. The title of the novel, "aquarium' written in silvery aqua print. Simply gorgeous. Inside the end papers are on brilliant aqua and the pages are thickly cut. The aquarium is where a twelve year old girl first encounters a man who turns out to be someone very important in her life'. The pictures of the fishes they seem real and expressi ...more
Debbie "DJ"
Apr 20, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites, fiction, lgbt
I absolutely LOVED this book. Wow! What a writer David Vann is! The beginning is so original. Fish! But not the kind of fish that automatically come to mind, fish that are rarely seen. Vann describes them so poetically, and each is related to our human world and emotions. Since I love biology so much, for me I couldn't get enough. So many exquisite paragraphs! Here's an example of just one, "Body of small green leaves, veined, very thin, it's fins painted in light cast from elsewhere, but from h ...more
Oct 08, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: favorites, fiction
"An old man next to me suddenly, his voice an unwelcome surprise. No one ever spoke to me here. Dark rooms, humid and warm, haven from the snow outside."

Twelve year old Caitlin Thompson sits poised before the glass encased sanctuaries. Artificial renderings of ocean habitats. Beautiful specimens hiding and blending and reacting with genetically encoded responses. Much like their human counterparts, these fish, these squatters of the sea. Mesmorized by movement and non-movement alike.

Caitlin wait
Oct 03, 2014 rated it really liked it
(3.5) So I kept wondering what the metaphorical significance of the aquarium fish in this book might be. Turns out David Vann just really likes fish. Here’s the revelatory passage from his memoir, A Mile Down:

I’ve loved tropical fish all my life, at one point in junior high had eight aquariums spread throughout the house. For years, even in upstate New York, in grad school, I had gazed at fish every night, watching how they fluttered, imagined myself suspended in warm water with them, so this [s
I know Vann has some other good books out there, but this one was a great introduction to his talents. A twelve-year old girl tells her story of discovery and hope in the context of a disturbing family drama in contemporary Seattle. Her single mom, Sheri, works hard at a container shipping facility, and each day Caitlin spends her afternoons grooving on the wonders at the aquarium. Her life may suffer from the grimness of poverty and the constraints of a tiny apartment in an industrial neighborh ...more
May 10, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

Where to start.....this was a spur of the moment pick for me not knowing what to read all know the instead of reading one of the umpteen books I already own, I decided to download another on my iPad bc of one review in particular I just happened to see on GR.....

To begin with, I must tell you the pictures of the various fish at the aquarium throughout the book were so amazing and lifelike, they seemed to jump out a

Jul 19, 2015 rated it it was amazing
5 stars - Utterly amazing.

Unique, captivating, powerful, brilliant. I believe this is only the 2nd five star rating I have given this year, so when I say it was utterly amazing, I mean it. Those ratings are not tossed around lightly in my corner of the world! (The other 5 star rating was what continues to so far be my favorite read of the year thus far, The Orenda ). I started this little novel today and didn't put it down until I had read the very last page; it was that engrossing.

That being s
Mar 21, 2015 rated it really liked it
Aquarium is one twisted story. Caitlin, 12, visits the aquarium daily as she waits for her mother after school. While being fascinated by the fish and their wondrous world of colour, depth and life, she befriends an old man who turns out to be her Grandfather. What follows is a vivid and brutal account where her mother torments her and demands she stop the relationship with her estranged father. This is a story of forgiveness, growth and redemption. The prose is eloquent. The pictures of the var ...more
Dec 25, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Zoeytron by: DJ
Shelves: public-library
There are things that happen to us in life that leave dents. Whether in the soul or in the mind, the damage is done. It may be forgivable, or it may not. 'One life can never know another's.'

Twelve year old Caitlyn doesn't eat fish because she loves them too much. Not hard to imagine, knowing she spends every afternoon at the Aquarium after school lets out. She knows the exhibits backwards and forwards, is a veritable fount of knowledge, well-schooled (if you will) in all things having to do with
Apr 23, 2015 rated it liked it
Recommended to Caroline by: tinabel

It can’t be denied: There’s more to this story than meets the eye. This starts out as placid as its aquarium setting, with a girl, an old man, and lots of pretty and unusual fish, but those thinking Aquarium is too sweet and perfect will wonder before long why they ever thought such a thing.

The narrator is tween Caitlin, a likable character who becomes friends with an old man. This kind of friendship has been done countless times before, but author David Vann avoided cliché. In
Nov 02, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: best-of-2015
First of all, if you are going to read this book, do yourself a favor and read the hardcopy version. The physical book is a work of art in itself – a beautiful, textured silver/blue fish scale patterned jacket. Thick, creamy pages with colored plates of the fish referenced in the story. Large wide-spaced font that is easy on the eye. It’s a visual and tactile experience that should not be missed.

The writing is amazing. The downside of reading a hard copy is not being able to highlight passages t
Andrew Smith
Feb 27, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Caitlin is 12 years old and lives in run-down and sparse accommodation in Seattle with her mother, Sheri. After school each day she visits the local aquarium where she stares at the fish with wonder and awe. On one such day, while she waits for her mother to pick her up, she meets an old man who she befriends.

This is the set-up for a novel that starts out like a fairy tale but takes a dark turn to something much nastier and more challenging. Sheri’s job is physically demanding and as a single p
Renee Godding
Sep 27, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Iris P
Aquarium by David Vann

Raw, evocative, fierce and relentless are some of the adjectives that have been used to describe this book. Aquarium can also be described as a coming of age story, which are not particularly rare, but I am sure this is by far the most emotionally intense I've ever read.

On a pure visual level, this is a gorgeous book to look at. The novel is enhanced by the beautiful and colorful pictures of fish and other sea creatures that are cleverly integrated into the story. I read Aquarium on my Kindl
Mar 06, 2015 rated it really liked it
This is my first reading of a book by David Vann; unlikely to be the last. He drew me in slowly to this story of the dreary life of a mother and pre-teen daughter in Seattle. There are specks of brightness provided by the fish swimming in the titular Aquarium, a metaphor for so much. This is the place where Caitlin, 12 years old, escapes every day after school, bonding with all the fish, knowing their idiosyncrasies, revealing their beauty to all.

This is also a book that is pounding with emotion
Mar 22, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2019-favorites
This was a brutal, beautiful novel that I could not put down. Turning these pages, I stepped right into the cold, gray Seattle neighborhood. I felt the backbreaking load of Sheri's work at a container port and the respite of the aquarium for Caitlin (with the stunning fish pictures.) I loved the character of Caitlin and wanted to swoop in and protect her.

I can't think of a book I've read where ugliness and beauty are juxtaposed like they are in this novel. I believed every moment - and because
"Aquarium" by David Vann is a novel set in 1994 Seattle. It is told from the perspective of a 32 year old Caitlan about events that happened to her in 1994 when she was 12.

Caitlan is the daughter of a single mother, Sheri, who works at the Seattle docks. They live in subsidized housing next to Boeing Field. Caitlan spends her after school time at the Seattle Aquarium, waiting for her mother to pick her up after work. The world of the aquarium is so beautiful to Caitlan, she feels more alive ther
May 12, 2015 rated it liked it
I would rate this one a 3.5 - in some ways it was enchanting and I couldn't tear my eyes away, but it was a bit too simply written and bleak to be bumped up to a 4. Still recommended, because the plot takes a few powerful and unexpected twists and turns and it's a unique concept. Plus, there are lots of pretty pictures of fish! ...more
Apr 04, 2015 rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2015, contemporary
*Possible Spoilers*

I could rate this either 2 stars or 4 stars and both would be honest ratings. It shows how conflicted I am about this book. On the the one hand, the author clearly is an exceptionally good writer. He has clear, simple prose and a main character whose pain reaches you from the page. Caitlin shows us only a snapshot in her life, which revolves around her grandfather entering her life. Whilst Caitlyn doesn't share it with us, there are hints that not all was well at home for her
Lisa  (not getting friends updates) Vegan
I really liked this book. Mostly, I loved Caitlin’s voice, a child’s voice, an adult who remembers childhood looking back. She’s great. She’s what makes the book special. I think the writing is beautiful, and that’s also Caitlin’s voice. I found many quotable quotes. I think the story is told with a lot of creativity. The sense of immediacy was brilliant; I did feel as though I was right there with these people. Even though I was rooting for Caitlin, I was able to feel empathy for all the charac ...more
Doug Bradshaw
Feb 11, 2016 rated it liked it
What a great quick read. The writing flows well, sometimes beautiful, the descriptions and metaphors created by the exotic creatures and sometimes even the bland day-to-day fish in the aquarium, added a cozy dimension to the story, a feeling of warmth and protection, a perfect place for a lonely old man to become best friends with a lonely young girl. All of that was so appealing. And yet:

(view spoiler)
Aug 15, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: literature lovers, teen angst
Shelves: chcc-library

I like David Vann’s style. Even when his stories are dark, there are small sparks of hope – particularly in the kids. The worse the characters behave, the more they need forgiveness. How much is too much? What can be forgiven and what can’t?

Caitlin is a lonely 12-year old who lives with her single mum, Sheri, a dock worker, who has just started dating Steve.

Caitlin jealously tries to ignore Steve, just her mother’s latest man, but can’t help being attracted by his inclusive conversations.
Oct 16, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: netgalley
I was very lucky to get a free copy of this novel from the publisher through Netgalley. I have never read anything by Vann and he was not even on my radar, so what a treat to read this wonderful book. It is a quick read and Vann's writing is quite sparse -- deceptively simple. But he is so skillful at conveying anger, pain, tension and love between this small cast of characters. There is nothing unusual from a literary point of view about the underlying story of Caitlin and her mother and their ...more
Jan 08, 2016 rated it it was amazing
A beautiful case study in mental health and mental illness. I would characterize this book in the YA category but I'm glad it wasn't because I probably would have passed on it. The relationship between two twelve year olds was beautiful but surprising how intense it is at that young age. I had a hard time relating to the mother, even though I'm also a single mother, because I would always bite back my pride and move past my history for the betterment of my kids. Still, this book had me emotional ...more
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »

Readers also enjoyed

  • Praskliny
  • Soběstačný
  • Šikmý kostel: románová kronika ztraceného města (léta 1894 - 1921)
  • Před povodní
  • Plachetnice na vinětách
  • Une bête au paradis
  • Vrány
  • Gina
  • Svědectví o životě v KLDR
  • Les refuges
  • If Not For This
  • Fille
  • Anatomia de les distàncies curtes
  • The Death of Jesus
  • Mezipřistání
  • Comme un empire dans un empire
  • A Planet for Rent
  • A la vie!
See similar books…
Published in 19 languages, David Vann’s internationally-bestselling books have won 15 prizes, including best foreign novel in France and Spain and, most recently, the $50,000 St. Francis College Literary Prize 2013, and appeared on 70 Best Books of the Year lists in a dozen countries. He has written for the Atlantic Monthly, Esquire, Outside, Men’s Health, Men’s Journal, The Sunday Times, The Obse ...more

Related Articles

Danielle Evans was just 26 when she released her short story collection Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self in 2010, a multi-award-winning...
15 likes · 1 comments
No trivia or quizzes yet. Add some now »
“Anything is possible with a parent. Parents are gods. They make us and they destroy us. They warp the world and remake it in their own shape, and that's the world we know forever after. It's the only world. We can't see what it might have looked like otherwise.” 23 likes
“Each thing that happens to us, each and every thing, it leaves some dent, and that dent will always be there. Each of us is a walking wreck.” 17 likes
More quotes…