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Whale Talk is the story of
T.J. Jones, a high school senior near Spokane, Washington. He is intelligent
and articulate. He is almost 62 and
nearly 200 lbs. He looks like Tiger
Woods on steroids. His parents are
ex-hippies who adopted him. His father
is a tragic figure, haunted by an accident from decades ago, and his mother is
a lawyer who fights for the welfare of abused children. T.J. shares his parents suspicion of
authority, but he goes at least one step further, trying to buck the system as
much as he can, standing up for what he thinks is right, and refusing to meet
other peoples expectations of him if he does not respect them. T.J. is at Cutter High School, where jocks
get all the respect, and so, even though T.J. is a natural athlete, he refuses
to participate in any school sports.
As a narrator of his story, T.J. is
more eloquent and expressive than is believable. But then, a real high school senior would probably be a terrible
narrator of a book length story, so it is unreasonable to make too much of this
point. The problem is exacerbated in
audiobook by the fact that the reader, Brian Corrigan, sounds
considerably older than a teenager and although Im reluctant to endorse any
stereotyping of the sounds of different races, Corrigans voice shows no hint
of being black, so it is hard to be think of him as T.J. To be fair, I should add that Corrigan is a
good reader, keeping the story interesting, and bringing the different
characters to life.
revolves around T.J.s swim team. He is
pressured into swimming for the school by a coach, and he gives into this
pressure, on the condition that he can form a swimming team. T.J. gathers together a motley crew, and the
main storyline focuses on how they go through trials and tribulations to
ultimately do themselves proud. The
main subplot is out of school, centering on a lowlife called Ritch Marshall.
Ritch, who is five years older than T.J., was an athlete at Cutter High, but
thats not why T.J. has such a low opinion of him. Ritch is a racist, misogynist, hateful sorry excuse for a man who
beats people weaker than himself. T.J.s battle with Ritch is really the more
interesting and challenging part of the story.
aspects of this novel one could find fault with. In particular, there are many points where the story becomes
melodramatic to the point of implausibility.
The plot revolves around sports, yet it does not require any great love
of sports on the part for readers to enjoy it. T.J. is an quirky and
sympathetic hero, and the story delves into the issues of abuse, loss, love,
the connection between parents and children, racism, and forgiveness. Whale Talk should appeal to
thoughtful teenagers who can appreciate a book that engages with the ethical
quandaries of life without preaching to the reader.
© 2002 Christian Perring. First Serial Rights.
Ph.D., is Chair of the Philosophy Department at Dowling College,
Long Island. He is editor of Metapsychology Online Review.
His main research is on philosophical issues in psychiatry.
He is especially interested in exploring how philosophers can
play a greater role in public life, and he is keen to help foster
communication between philosophers, mental health professionals,
and the general public.
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