Miles O'Malley, 13-year-old insomniac, naturalist, worshipper of Rachel Carson, and dweller on the mud flats of Skookumchuck Bay, at the South end of Puget Sound near Olympia, Washington, is the irresistible center of The Highest Tide. He says, "I learned early on that if you tell people what you see at low tide they'll think you're exaggerating or lying when you're actually just explaining strange and wonderful things as clearly as you can" and "People usually take decades to sort out their view of the universe, if they bother to sort at all. I did my sorting during one freakish summer in which I was ambushed by science, fame and suggestions of the divine."
And what a summer he has! Miles, who is licensed to collect marine specimens for money, slips into his kayak late one night when he can't sleep and begins his exploratory rounds. What he sees is not the usual collectibles. He hears a deep exhale, a sound of release, and comes eye to eye with a giant squid. But, there are no giant squid in Puget Sound or anywhere around it--and when they are seen by humans, they are always dead. His discovery is confirmed by Professor Kramer, a local biologist and Miles's friend. Television cameras arrive, everyone wants to interview this small-for-his-age but very smart boy and the events of the summer begin to unfold.
Jim Lynch has an ability to tell a tale that glows on every page. He knows everything that lives in or near the water by name and habit. This knowledge and his sense of wonder at the natural world brings the reader very close to his story, both in its setting and its characters. One early morning Miles says, "...the water was so clear I could see coon-stripe shrimp ... and the bottomless bed of white clam shells ... Those shells, as unique and timeless as bones, helped me realize that we all die young, that in the life of the earth, we are houseflies, here for one flash of light." Such insights are perfectly natural coming from Miles, whose interests are not garden-variety. He has a mad crush on the mixed-up 18-year-old girl next door, a randy age-mate named Phelps, and a deep friendship with Florence, the elderly woman his mother refers to as "a crazy witch." Florence is a psychic of sorts and her powers come into play when she predicts an extremely high tide on a certain day.
All of these relationships and what is happening between Miles's parents are part of this event-filled, life-changing summer. Early on, Miles says off the top of his head, when asked by a TV reporter why a deep-sea creature has found its way to his front yard, "Maybe the earth is trying to tell us something." What the earth and the sea and the people in Miles's life are all trying to tell him is what he susses out in the days that follow--before that high tide.
This absolutely luminous first novel has all the earmarks of a classic. The Highest Tide is destined to be read, re-read, and to remain on bookshelves for the enjoyment of generations to come. --Valerie Ryan
From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. The fertile strangeness of marine tidal life becomes a subtly executed metaphor for the bewilderments of adolescence in this tender and authentic coming-of-age novel, Lynch's first. As a precocious, undersized 13-year-old living on the shore of Puget Sound, in Washington State, Miles O'Malley has developed a consuming passion for the abundant life of the tidal flats. His simple pleasure in observing is tested and complicated over the course of a remarkable summer, when he finds a giant squid, a discovery that brings him the unwelcome attention of scientists, TV reporters and a local cult. Meanwhile, Miles's remote parents are considering a divorce; his best friend, Florence, an elderly retired psychic, is dying of a degenerative disease; his sex-obsessed buddy, Phelps, mocks his science-geek knowledge; and his desperate crush on Angie Stegner, the troubled girl next door, both inspires and humiliates him. Events build toward the date of a record high tide, and Miles slowly sorts out his place in the adult world. While occasionally Lynch packs too much into a small story, this moving, unusual take on the summers of childhood conveys a contagious sense of wonder at the variety and mystery of the natural world.
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