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Whale Talk Paperback – June 30, 2009
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A varsity letter jacket: it's exclusive, nearly unattainable, revered . . . and everything that's screwed up about Cutter High, as far as T. J. Jones is concerned. That's why T. J. is determined to have the Cutter All Night Mermenthe unlikeliest swim team a high school has ever seenearn letter jackets of their own.
It won't be easy. For one thing, they don't even have a pool. They will fight for their dignity, they will fight with each other, and sometimes they will just fight. And then they will realize that a single moment can bring lifelong heartache or lifelong friendship. For T. J. and his crew of misfits, the quest may be far more valuable than the reward.
- Format: Paperback
- Publication Date: 6/30/2009
- Pages: 304
- Reading Level: Age 13 and Up
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Crutcher's protagonist, T.J. Jones, is a rare gem of a character. Having survived an early childhood of neglect and being the target of racism in his mostly white school, T.J. has plenty of reasons to be angry. However, he remains stoic in the face of adversity, refusing to rise to the racial taunts of his enemies. In fact, what makes him such a wonderful character is that his indignation and sense of justice are not reserved for himself but for others who fall outside the scope of the "in" crowd. His effort to put together a swim team is driven by an injustice he witnesses towards another classmate. In a school driven by athletics, he walks a precarious slope with the individuals on his team who fit plenty of categories--mentally challenged, handicapped, mute, overweight--except athletic. Still, T.J.'s drive and determination help whip this group of misfits into a competitive swim team in no time flat.
Of course, from the arc of the swim team come many other compelling story lines--abuse, death, racism, and forgiveness. Crutcher seamlessly weaves these threads into the story by putting T.J. front and center. By witnessing and even participating in other characters' difficulties--the racial abuse inflicted upon a five-year-old girl of mixed race, the tragedy of his father's past, the sexual abuse suffered by one of his teammates--T.J. is better able to put his own life into perspective with guidance from his loving adoptive parents and his therapist.
Although the last 20 pages or so stray into melodrama, this book is powerful on so many levels. Images--the deer, the Brillo pad--will stay with the reader long after the book has been closed. At the core of its message is the idea that no one really knows what difficulties others are facing, a poignant message given the times we live in.
ERIC, 16 YEARS OLD MISS WATER IS MY TEAHER
(Written by a student of mine to fulfill a class project. JW)
I lagged. I cried. But most of all, I felt could relate. This book is so real!
If I could quote every sentence in a separate line, I would. The author is that good!!
Amazing read, everyone!! This book is at the top of my list of suggestions.
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.