Week 10, Whale Talk by Chris Crutcher
Crutcher, C. (2001). Whale talk. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers.
This book is an emotional thriller as the audience follows along through the eyes of lovable T.J. Jones as he goes out of his way many times to help others in need. All of this kindness happens as he recruits people for a the brand new Cutter High School swim team. Along his journey, T.J. (as well as the audience) gets very close to Heidi, a five year old with an unfortunate home life. Eventually, things take a turn for the worse and the audience experiences what happens when a gun gets into the wrong hands at the wrong time.
Keywords: swimmers; domestic violence; tragedy; varsity jacket
What I Think:
I LOVED this book, even with its intensity and emotion. I thought the characters were thoroughly developed so that the audience could clearly understand their thoughts, decisions and feelings. I felt as if I was a friend to the main character by the end of the book, so much so that I was way more emotionally attached to the story than I normally would find myself. For example, Tao says, “I didn’t earn a letter jacket because I could, and all my friends did because they couldn’t. Some things really don’t get any better” (Crutcher, 2001, p. 204). By having a deep understanding of Tao, the audience can understand such a complicated statement. It actually makes so much sense to come from Tao and truly defines who he is as a person. Knowing this as an audience member makes the entire story believable, relatable, and truly gets readers attached.
What the Experts Think:
Gr. 8-12. Crutcher’s fans will recognize the author’s signature style and subject matter in his new novel, his first in six years. Adopted, biracial high-school senior The Tao Jones (his birth mother seems to “have been a little too ‘spiritual”‘) is well-adjusted on the surface. A smart, likable kid with a great sense of humor and athletic ability, he glides through academia with everything an adolescent boy needs-decent grades and female companionship. What T. j. doesn’t need is competitive sports, which Cutter High School jocks and coaches see as a personal snub. T. J.’s resolve weakens, however, when English teacher-coach Mr. Simet makes an unconventional offer: Be the anchor of the swim team and pick your fellow fish. Perfect, especially since racist football bully Mike Barbour has taken up letter jackets as a cause. It seems developmentally disabled Chris Coughlin has been wearing his dead brother’s jacket, and Mike is annoyed. If Chris, naturally comfortable in the water, is on the swim team, T. 1. reasons, Chris will earn a jacket of his own, and Mike will be put in his place. The veteran author once again uses well-constructed characters and quick pacing to examine how the sometimes cruel and abusive circumstances of life affect every link in the human chain, and a heartwrenching series of plot twists leads to an end in which goodness at least partially prevails. Through it all, as expected, shines Crutches sympathy for teens and their problems. For more about the book, see the Story-behind-the Story on the opposite page. -Kelly Milner Halls
Kelly, Milner Halls. 2001. Whale talk. The Booklist 97, (15) (Apr 01): 1462
I would incorporate this book within a larger study of gun violence in American culture. I would have the students read through this book in class and at home to give them a narrative and characters that they can relate and connect to. Then, in class, I would bring in excerpts from Taking Aim: Power and Pain, Teens and Guns edited by Michael Cart as well as other resources such as current events in newspapers. All of the articles and excerpts provided to the students would relate to what we were reading in the narrative and discussing in class. These pulled excerpts would either support opinions in the group or provide a different perspective in order to add variety and depth to the discussion. I think this process would provide for a rich discussion and development of opinions on such a controversial yet important topic. The goal is to allow students to develop their own opinions of gun control and violence in American society through discussion with their peers on these texts.