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Whale Talk Paperback – June 30, 2009

4.5 out of 5 stars 109 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

T. J. Jones is black, Japanese, and white; his given name is The Tao (honest!), and he's the son of a woman who abandoned him when she got heavily into crack and crank. As a child he was full of rage, but now as a senior in high school he's pretty much overcome all that. With the help of a good therapist and his decent, loving, ex-hippie adoptive parents, he's not only fairly even-keeled, he has turned out to be smart and funny.

Injustice, however, still fills him with fury. So when big-deal football star Mike Barbour bullies brain-damaged Chris Coughlin for wearing his dead brother's letter jacket, T.J. hatches a scheme for revenge. He assembles a swim team (in a school with no pool) made up of the most outrageous outsiders and misfits he can find and extracts a conditional promise of those sacred letter jackets from the coach. After weeks of dedicated practice at the All Night Fitness pool, the seven mermen get good enough not to embarrass themselves in competition. The really important thing, though, turns out to be the long bus rides to meets, a safe place to share the hurts that have made them who they are. Meanwhile, T.J.'s father, who has taken in a battered little girl to ease his lifelong guilt over his role in the accidental death of a baby, tangles with another bully--her stepfather--and his growing murderous rage.

Chris Crutcher, therapist and author of seven prize-winning young adult books, here gives his many fans another wise and compassionate story full of the intensity of athletic competition and hair-raising incidents of child abuse. (Ages 12 and older) --Patty Campbell --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Publishers Weekly

Crutcher's (Running Loose; Ironman) gripping tale of small-town prejudice delivers a frank, powerful message about social issues and ills. Representing one-third of his community's minority population ("I'm black. And Japanese. And white"), narrator T.J. Jones voices a darkly ironic appraisal of the high school sports arena. Despite his natural athletic ability (at 13, he qualified for the Junior Olympics in two swimming events), T.J. has steered away from organized sports until his senior year, when Mr. Simet, a favorite English teacher, implores him to help form a swim team for the school (and thereby help the teacher save his job). T.J. sees an opportunity to get revenge on the establishment and invites outcasts to participate on the team; he ends up with "a representative from each extreme of the educational spectrum, a muscle man, a giant, a chameleon, and a psychopath." As might be expected, he accomplishes his mission: his motley crew of swimmers is despised by more conventional athletes (and coaches). The swimmers face many obstacles, but their dedication to their sport and each other grows stronger with every meet. The gradual unfolding of characters' personal conflicts proves to be as gripping as the evolution of the team's efforts. Through T.J.'s narration, Crutcher offers an unusual yet resonant mixture of black comedy and tragedy that lays bare the superficiality of the high school scene. The book's shocking climax will force readers to re-examine their own values and may cause them to alter their perception of individuals pegged as "losers." Ages 12-up.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Greenwillow Books; Reprint edition (June 30, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061771317
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061771316
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.6 x 7.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (109 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #54,735 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By E. R. Bird HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on July 6, 2004
Format: Mass Market Paperback
A good book rises above its own premise. Reading a short synopsis of this story without knowing anything about it beyond its plot could easily suggest to the average viewer that it's going to be awful. Think about it. A multi-racial protagonist and his motley crew of rag tag misfits puts together an unlikely swim team and everybody learns a little bit about what it's like to walk in another person's shoes. Bleaugh! That's the kind of After School Special plotting that can get a book seriously ignored by its intended audience. Now I had never read a Chris Crutcher book coming into this. Frankly, I know the man has a reputation for producing darned good books. Then I read "Whale Talk" and found, to my incredible relief, that this was not really a book about a swim team. It's about the circle of abuse and the amount of control an individual has over his or her own actions. It's about hurting other people and what the cost of that can be. In short, the book takes amazingly gigantic themes, renders them bite size, and gives them humanity and humor. It's the humor part that really impressed me.

T.J. Jones (actual name The Tao Jones... pronounce it, I dare you) is probably one of three people of color in his small Washington town. Adopted by his parents when he was a seriously abused toddler, T.J.'s a pretty well put together kid. That's probably in no small part due to his amazing mom and dad and his fantastic (some might say godlike) child therapist, Georgia. Which isn't to say that T.J.'s life is bereft of odd problems. His favorite teacher, Simet, is trying to lure T.J. into helping him start a school swim team. There are a couple problems with this plan. For one thing, T.J. refuses to join any organized sports. Cutter High School is run by and for its jocks.
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Format: Mass Market Paperback Verified Purchase
Whale Talk is a book that takes the reader on a roller coaster ride of emotions. The books warms the heart, infuriates, teaches, and opens the eyes of any reader that picks this book up.
The Tao Jones is a mixed race character who is adopted from a drug-addicted mother. Tao is taken in by a truck driving dad and lawyer mother who are just about the coolest parents on earth, but they aren't without their own baggage.

Whale Talk is a masterfully woven tale that traces Tao through his struggles in a racist society that is also a little elitist. Tao, like most of Crutcher's protagonists, is a great athlete with a strange sense of humor. Tao enjoys getting even with those who single out he, or any other character in the high school that is different, by using the predators' ignorance against them.
All in all, this is an honest portrayal of a complex mix of race, family secrets and small town routines held up by the Good Ol' Boy system along with serious developmental pshychological issues.
This book will make you laugh, it will make you cry, but most importantly, it will make you examine your inner-most being in ways that will surprise you.
Chris Crutcher is the undisputed King of YA Literature, which he proves with his most powerful YA novel to date.
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Format: Mass Market Paperback
Chris Crutcher, Whale Talk (Dell, 2001)

It's always the best books that poke their heads up over the radar, only to have them lopped off by people who just don't get it. Whale Talk is listed by the American Library Association-- the folks who put out those neat lists of books that inbred know-nothings feel the need to attack in school libraries (aka the lists of "this is what I'll read next" for thousands upon thousands of American high-school kids)-- as one of the ten most challenged books of 2005. This makes perfect sense, because Whale Talk is probably the best young adult novel I've read since I first discovered Philip Pullman's wonderful (and similarly challenged) trilogy His Dark Materials.

T. J. Jones is a mixed-race high-school student in the Pacific Northwest, and he's also got something of an attitude problem. He's athletic, but ignores organized sports at his competition-rabid school until he sees the younger brother of a now-dead local hero getting pushed around for wearing his brother's letter jacket. Jones decides to retaliate by starting a swim team-- at a school that doesn't even have its own pool. He recruits a number of misfits (including Chris, the pushed-around, mentally challenged kid), lines up a coach, and sets out to, if not humiliate the sports freaks around him, at least show them that the outcasts can perform, too. What he doesn't expect is that the long bus rides to swim meets around the region will create a sense of camaraderie among them.

The most important thing that makes this book so good is the characterization. Crutcher has filled his book with well-drawn, memorable, interesting characters who will keep the reader entertained for its duration.
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Format: Hardcover
I've been a big fan of Chris Crutcher's work since Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes, and the new Whale Talk draws on the same stuff that made that book an awesome read: swimming, intolerance, bad home lives, and what it is to be an outcast. Whale Talk is about The Tao Jones (T.J. for short), a mixed-race guy in a very white town, who despite being very athletic refuses to participate in organized sports. That is, until his favorite teacher, Mr. Simet, grabs him for his new swim team. Though there are some difficulties (the school has no pool and no one can actually swim except for T.J.), together they round up an unlikely group of swimmers: a brain-damaged boy, a bodybuilder, a walking-thesaurus intellectual, an overweight guy, a shadow, and a one-legged psycho. T.J.'s mission? To get this band of misfits some highly-valued letter jackets. Throw in the racial undertones and some really funny dialogue and Crutcher's got another really great book on his hands. Though a teensy bit derivative, definitely worth reading. (Watch out for the character of Andy Mott. Crutcher always seems to pick a character we are meant to love with abandon. In Sarah Byrnes, it was Ellerby. In Whale Talk, it's definitely Mott.) It also reads really fast...I couldn't put it down till I had finished it, though it meant staying up half the night. Two thumbs up.
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