Friday, August 31, 2007

Whale Talk

Whale Talk, by Chris Crutcher
$6.99 at Amazon.com
ISBN: 0440229383
A delightful short novel from the teen section. Chris Crutcher has long been a favorite of mine, most of his books are about athletics of some kind. This one involves a high school swim team.
TJ Jones is our young hero. TJ is actually short for Tao, making his name a delicious pun. He's a seventeen year old boy of mixed race in a town that's almost entirely white. He's cool, he's edgy, and he's organizing a swimming team for a high school which has no pool.
This is only the first of his obstacles. His team is a rather odd assortment: one of his teammates is over 300 pounds, another is missing one of his legs, and a third is brain damaged. Not a cast of Olympic hopefuls, surely, but what they lack in talent they make up for in commitment.
If you enjoy playing sports, as I do, you'll relate to the camaraderie the boys share. Their trips to their meets on a school bus mean as much to the kids as the competitions themselves. Plenty of back-slapping male bonding, in other words.
There are some serious issues in here as well: abusive parents, racists, and over-bearing high school jocks who think sports should be limited to football and baseball, the only games that "matter" in this town.
The motley cast of characters is as lovable as can be; the plot is engaging and, at a trim 219 pages, is a good choice for the beginning reader in your life. What seals the deal is Crutcher's non-preachy method of getting his messages across. Good sportsmanship. Seeing things through to the end. Sticking by your friends when things get tough. All very manly virtues.
That's what the story is about: it's not whether you win or lose, it's how you play the game. This group of teenage friends is on their way to becoming great men.

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