Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Whale Talk, by Chris Crutcher

Whale Talk, by Chris Crutcher. New York: Greenwillow Books, 2009. 220 pp. ISBN 9780061771316

Putting together a swim team composed of the most unlikely members, and then winning meets together and sticking it to the jocks and naysayers -- how cool would that be? 

Realistic Fiction

High school senior T.J. Jones, of mixed African-American, Japanese-American, and white ethnicity, was a prominent swimmer in his younger years.  He has avoided organized competition in recent years, however.  That is, until his beloved English teacher, Mr. Simet, approaches him for help with starting a school sports team.  T.J. decides to start a swim team, planning to use it as an example to the jocks and others who bully students in the school who don't fit the prescribed mold in some way.  In particular, he wants to use the team as a vehicle for Chris Coughlin, a developmentally delayed student who has been harrassed for wearing his late brother's letterman jacket, to earn his own jacket.  T. J. thus assembles a team of non-swimmers, each member with a different personality and personal issue.  As they train, they come to know each other and give their all to pursuing their common athletic dream.

I found T.J. to be very inspiring in his convictions and follow-through.  Both adults and teens can learn much from this character.  Despite the anger that T.J. felt as a young child -- resulting from his biological mother's abuse of him -- and still deals with as a teen, T.J. does the right thing in most situations.  Although he does seem a little too perfect at moments, I think his self-awareness and approach to life are conceivable for an intelligent teen who's been through as much therapy as he has.  I would have liked to read more about his relationship with Carly, as it did seem unrealistic that two high schoolers would have such a hermonious relationship, but then Carly isn't the focus of the story.   And this is positive too; Crutcher's lack of focus on T.J.'s relationship with Carly hopefully demonstrates to teens that being in love shouldn't take over one's life, that one should remain one's own person with one's own interests and goals and friends outside of the relationship.

This book should be helpful to any teen who is being bullied or who has been told they can't do something which they desire to achieve.  It should encourage teens to believe in themselves.

The idea of creating a swim team from non-swimmers sounded intriguing.

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