Teen Book Review: "Whale Talk"

Northeast Library

Teen Book Review: "Whale Talk"

This year, the library’s summer reading programs are all about water, whether making a splash or making waves. In keeping with that theme, Whale Talk by Chris Crutcher is a book in which just about everything washes up, from a one-legged swimmer to a kid with a bone to pick and a heart of gold to boot. Read on to find out more.

T.J. Jones has lived a very rough life.  Born a multi-racial teenager in a very white portion of eastern Washington state, he has to deal with racism his whole life, despite being adopted by a loving family.  He has also had to deal with the difficulties of life at Cutter High School, where the jocks are kings and everyone else is treated lower than peasants.  A gifted athlete himself, he has always shunned organized sports himself as a point of protest against the system, which seems to fall on deaf ears. 

However, when his favorite teacher wants to organize a swim team, T.J. purposefully recruits the least athletic students of Cutter High, in a gamble to help them all earn coveted letter jackets and snub the school’s athletic kings.  And while T.J.’s ploy may work, it could end up costing him more than he ever imagined.

While this novel is weighted down with a lot of issues, strong characterization and plot help it to bear this load.  T.J., his adoptive parents, and the many other characters are very well developed, and even the secondary and villainous characters get a bit of background information to explain their motivations.  This book will resonate with many non-athletic teenagers who have faced prejudice in schools from the privileged athletes. It is also short enough and written in a sarcastic and realistic teen voice that it will appeal to reluctant teen readers.

Whale Talk will appeal to non-jocks and anyone who has ever felt marginalized or excluded. It is recommended for teens of all ages.  Check it out along with other books by award-winning writer Chris Crutcher.

--by Brandon Digwood