The cover of Song for a Whale drew me in like a moth to flame: a young girl standing on the edge of a pier with her arms outstretched, a large blue whale below her. Immediately, questions swirled in my head! Is she conducting a song for the whale? Can the whale possibly hear her? Is she safe? Is this real or magical? I was hooked before reading the first page.
The protagonist and narrator is a 12-year-old girl named Iris who was born deaf. For reasons we won’t understand until later in the book, Iris attends a mainstream middle school where she is subjected to a well-meaning but overbearing student who doesn’t respect Iris’ boundaries and an ignorant teacher who treats Iris with disdain. Her difficulties in communicating and connecting with other students lead her to sympathize greatly with Blue 55, a hybrid Baleen whale who can’t communicate with other whales because he sings at a much higher frequency. Other whales distrust him, causing him to lead a lonely existence.
Author Lynne Kelly is a sign language interpreter, and she makes Iris come alive with courage, determination, and heart. Iris has a remarkable gift for fixing electronics, especially old radios, and while she can’t hear music, she feels the vibrations it makes. She gets the idea to make a special song for Blue 55 and ends up traveling to Alaska and beyond with her bereaving Grandma (spoiler alert: Grandpa dies early in the book). You will revel in the naturalistic descriptions, and the deep connections Iris makes will stay with you long after you finish the book. By the end, Iris is changed … and you will be, too. But don’t just take my word for it! Here is what Newbery Award-winning author Katherine Applegate has to say:
“At its luminous heart, Song for a Whale is a tale about longing for connection and finding it in the most magical and unexpected of places. Fascinating, brave, and tender, this is a story like no other about a song like no other. A triumph.”
In case you are wondering, Blue 55 is based upon a REAL whale who was identified in the 1980s as “the world’s loneliest whale.” Tugs on your heartstrings, doesn’t it? An author’s note entitled Whale Communication and the 52-Hertz Whale follows the true story. Song for a Whale is Lynne Kelly’s second novel, and you can click here to read her interview with the San Francisco Book Review. You can also visit her website at lynnekellybooks.com