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Thursday, February 28, 2019

Song for a Whale by Lynne Kelly

*Today's review is part of the blog tour for Song for a Whale; an ARC of the book was provided by Random House Children's Books. All opinions and thoughts are honest and my own. Affiliate links are used in this post.*

Song for a Whale by Lynne Kelly
Middle Grade Contemporary, 320 pages
Delacorte Books for Young Readers (February 5, 2019)
Twelve-year-old Iris has never let her deafness slow her down. A whiz at fixing electronics, she's always felt at home in the world of wires and vacuum tubes.

School, on the other hand, isn't quite as simple. Between her frustrating teacher Ms. Conn and her overly helpful classmate Nina, Iris can't seem to catch a break.

But during science class, Iris learns about Blue 55—the loneliest whale in the world. Saddened by the animal's inability to speak to other whales, Iris uses her tech skills to come up with a plan communicate with Blue 55.

One small problem: the whale is swimming off the coast of Alaska, nearly 3,000 miles from her Texas home. But, nothing stops Iris, and with her Deaf grandmother by her side, she sets out on a road trip to meet the whale and make sure he's finally heard.

I feel like I've been talking a lot lately about craving middle grade, and how good and underappreciated middle grade is. I came across a thread on Twitter a few days ago about why people like YA — and making a distinction between adult and YA — because it generally deals with serious issues with sense of hope. I think this is even more true of middle grade stories, and while some may take a saccharine route, many, if not most, strip issues back to an unltimately honest core without sacrificing hope, which is no easy feat. Lynne Kelly's Song for a Whale is a good example of that.

Song for a Whale hits a lot of right notes*, succinctly capturing the frustrations and beauties of Iris' world, layered with a touch of adventure and coming of age, and built on the bones of a heartfelt family story. Iris is a dynamic protagonist, realistically flawed and lovely; she's got a thread of irritation and anger in her, an understandable chip on her shoulder, without ever falling into any kind of Angry Disabled Person™ trope. She's got a rich well of passions and skills that flesh her out, without falling into any kind of Magically Perfect Disabled Person™ trope. She's well executed and realistic, and it makes her easy to root for; she's deaf, but that's not all she is.

Iris also makes a great 'in' to the stories contained within the book — the story of different deaf people operating in different ways within a hearing world, the story of a whale who wants to be heard and known, the story of a family grieving and a woman wanting to live again, stories of science and technology and friendship and exploration. Iris' natural curiosity and spirit provide a good window into these tangled bits of people's lives in a really organic way, with Iris always remaining the central focus, but not the lone focus.

Readers will find a story of growth and connection that is thoroughly engaging and easily readable. Song for a Whale succeeds in letting in readers who may not be familiar with anyone deaf or hearing-impaired, without ever using deafness as a gimmick or condescending to the audience. The book as a whole is a good example of why middle grade books can be so enduring in our reading lives, and make such good tools for developing empathy and curiosity.

*Ha! This is a bit funny considering the subject of the book is a whale who can't hit the right notes. I swear I didn't plan this as some sort of godawful punnish thing, but here we are.


  1. Yay! I was hoping you'd enjoy this one and I could get your thoughts on it. I had a cover love instalove moment and then the blurb sounded great, too. Glad to know the content matches up.

  2. This one looks so good, I'm honestly surprised it *is* middle grade. I could easily imagine the synopsis being a college-aged woman going through the same thing. I can't wait to read it!


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