Song for a Whale
Iris is tired of feeling isolated. Her hearing parents refuse to send her to the school most of the other Deaf students in the area attend, so the only person she can really communicate with is her interpreter. (Her annoying classmate Nina thinks she can sign, but ends up just putting her hands in Iris’s personal space.) Iris used to be able to rely on visits with her Deaf grandparents; but now Grandpa has died and Grandma has retreated into grief, leaving Iris with two fewer people to talk to. But then, Iris’s science teacher tells the class about Blue 55, a whale who sings in a frequency so different that the other whales cannot hear him well enough to integrate him into a pod. Suddenly, Iris has a new project—she will piece together a new whale song for Blue 55. But making the song is not enough. Iris is determined to travel to Alaska to play the song for Blue, and she is going to bring Grandma along. As Iris well knows, whales are not the only mammals who can feel isolated.
Song for a Whale is a novel about a Big Adventure; and like many novels about Big Adventures, it is also about finding a way to live more happily at home once the adventure is over. Iris is a funny, sarcastic, clever narrator. She is full of ideas to make the world better, and full of ideas to make her life extremely complicated.
In her Author’s Note Lynne Kelly states that she wanted to create a story about a Deaf character who fully embraces a Deaf identity; and at the same time, she did not want the story to soften the hardships of living in a hearing world. As Kelly makes clear throughout the novel, Iris is comfortable being Deaf, and wishes that others (including her father) would be comfortable with her too. The parallel story of Blue 55 (who is based on a real whale) injects a fascinating and informative sub-plot, although the brief chapters narrated by Blue 55 feel somewhat forced. Aside from that minor issue, however, this novel is excellent, and will appeal to a wide range of readers.
Naomi Lesley ©2019 Parents’ Choice
Naomi Lesley taught middle and high school English for six years. She is currently in a doctoral program at the George Washington University, focusing on American young adult literature.