by Maggie Gilbert
I have always had a soft spot for fish-out-of-water tales. I think it’s because it’s so easy to relate to someone in that uncomfortable, awkward position where they are completely out of their depth, and they know it, but they are initially helpless to do anything about it. It’s also quite confronting to read about someone experiencing that feeling, because it’s so painfully easy to empathise. Haven’t we all been there?
In This is Now the heroine, Jess, lives with that ‘out of water’ feeling every day. Everyone around her seems so at ease, so content with their way of living, and Jess absolutely feels like she doesn’t belong there. It makes her feel as though she is truly a fish out of water, suffocating in the same atmosphere everyone around her seems so at home in. She’s grown up in this environment, but she feels foreign to it. And worse, she’s no longer got that camouflage she used to have of being able to blend in and hide how much she feels she doesn’t belong there.
Jess’s family and acquaintances are not very accepting of people who want to be different. Now that Jess isn’t as good at covering how much she’d rather be somewhere else, living some different life, she is getting a bit of grief from the neighbourhood about thinking she’s too good for everyone else.
I wrote this story because I wanted to answer a question, which was, ‘How can you know you want something else when you’ve never known anything else?’ I wondered what it was like to know you wanted something different to what you have, something more, but because you’ve led a very narrow existence, you don’t know how to figure out what that ‘other’ is. Jess doesn’t know much about any life other than her own; she works as a waitress in a better part of town and that has given her some narrow glimpses into what other types of careers and lives look like, but only from the outside. She has no intimate knowledge. Then she meets Sebastien and everything changes.
Sebastien is a classically trained musician, a gifted cellist with a bright future as a soloist ahead of him. He comes from a family with money, who live in an architect-designed house in an exclusive suburb. Sebastien has had to add hard work to his talent to get where he is, but he doesn’t understand the kind of struggle Jess has faced. But the incredible thing about Sebastien is that he doesn’t pigeon-hole Jess as some bad girl from a bad part of town. He seems to see straight through to who she is on the inside, that girl wanting a bigger and better life, and he encourages her to go after it. He doesn’t see what everyone else does, but it’s more than that; it’s as though he sees some future best version of Jess that she can only guess at.
Jess meets Sebastien when she is feeling her absolute worst fish out of water, at a black-tie concert performance when she is dressed a bit down and dirty to go clubbing. That he seems to see straight past that and into her soul, at a moment in her life when she is feeling completely exposed and vulnerable, is possibly the very reason she lets him into her heart. In normal circumstance she tends to wear pretty thick emotional armour. So in that sense, that terrible fish-out-of-water moment is what connects Jess to Sebastien and precipitates everything that follows.
A gritty, urban New Adult Cinderella story where the princess can do her own rescuing — she just needs someone to believe in her.