Title: Whale Song
Author: Cheryl Kaye Tardif
Genre: YA fiction
Summary: Eleven year old Sarah moves to Canada with her parents when her father accepts a post to study whales off the coastline. Even though she leaves everything behind, Sarah discovers that life can become complicated in a heartbeat. Or in the absence of one.
The Take-Away: One of the very charming aspects of Tardif's tale are the Eskimo stories that are woven naturally into the narrative. Sarah learns many of them from her new best friend's grandmother. Every one holds a lesson about life, but Sarah and Goldie love them for the adventure and strength of the characters. Sarah draws on this strength when her father is forced to decide whether or not to fulfill her mother's wishes: Don't let her live through the assistance of a machine.
While this aspect of the book is the focus of the marketing, really, it's not until the end that the reason for it becomes apparent. Many of the challenges Sarah developed as much of her character. Sarah is one of the only white children in her new hometown and is subjected to racism. One classmate has a father who physically and mentally abuses her.
The narrative does flow Sarah into adulthood. The story didn't give enough time to show her grow and change her voice, however. The same girl tells every aspect of the story, even though the initial narrative is told from the eleven-year-old's point of view. I also felt that more time could have been spent developing the historic setting. After all, assisted suicide is controversial today; in 1977 it would have been explosive. Sarah withdraws into herself, and little interaction between her and the rest of the town is relayed. Understandably, Sarah draws on the same artistic bent that was her mother's livelihood.
Recommendation: It's a tough topic that is handled well. Definitely read it with your child.
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