From School Library Journal
Grade 5–8—A victim of cystic fibrosis, 11-year-old Tommy downplays his condition and feeds his fascination with sharks. He has studied them for years, learning about their survival instincts. Tommy often struggles for breath, but he keeps a marathon pace as his bank of knowledge about these animals grows. He writes an autobiographical essay, enters a contest, and wins a trip to California to go on a shark watch. His 15-year-old sister, Bee, who mostly takes care of him, and his single mom, who mostly doesn't, join him. While on the boat, Tommy hopes against hope that his wish will be granted: to be lowered in a cage to experience the creatures eye-to-eye. A combination of seasickness and the dangerously rough sea nixes that. Bee, hovering and all-knowing, makes a pivotal decision: Tommy's daily struggle for life must not be all that he experiences. While their mother is out on an all-night date, the two set off to meet a local hero of sorts—a young surfer who lived to tell about a shark attack. Tommy, Bee, the surfer, and his younger brother form an instant bond. They hang out, do the California dreamin' thing, and give Tommy a surfing adventure he'll never forget. The flip side—and not surprisingly—he almost dies. This is as much Bee's coming-of-age story as it is Tommy's. Her narrative about her brother's condition and tangential situations of drama, romance, and their mother's behaviors often compromise the story's punch.—Alison Follos, North Country School, Lake Placid, NY
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*Starred Review* Fifteen-year-old Bee’s younger brother, Tommy, an avid shark buff, has cystic fibrosis. After a wish-granting charity fulfills Tommy’s dream to see great whites up close, Bee, 11-year-old Tommy, and their mother fly from New Hampshire to San Francisco. But after the outing proves disappointing, and their single mother seems more focused on a new man than on family, Bee and Tommy travel down the coast to meet Tommy’s pen pal and hero, Ty, a surfer and shark-attack survivor. There, Bee finds friendship, including a potential romance with Ty’s 16-year-old younger brother, while Tommy gets his longed-for sea adventure, which ends up being difficult and inspiring. Bee’s intimate, first-person narrative is wholly compelling and emotionally resonant. Monninger creates diverse, well-drawn characters, and Tommy’s illness is portrayed without sentimentality in straightforward detail. Interspersed among the breathtaking, vivid descriptions of events and settings are shark facts (further discussed in an author’s note) that illuminate nature’s brutality and beauty. What shines most, though, are the relationships among characters, particularly between conscientious, school-achiever Bee and courageous, touching Tommy. With mutual admiration, support, and love, they draw strength and perspective from one another and together gain further appreciation for human frailties and resilience. An absorbing, beautifully written novel that will affect readers on many levels. Grades 8-11. --Shelle Rosenfeld
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