Song for a Whale
Iris lives in Houston, and she shares her name with a beached whale, which lost its way and died on the beach the day Iris was born. Iris and her grandparents are deaf, but her parents and brother are not. Iris would much rather fix old radios and televisions than make friends at her school, where there are mostly hearing people. Iris is especially annoyed by a girl named Nina, who read a book about sign language and convinced their teacher she was an expert, and now she won't stop waving her hands in Iris' face, even though her signs make no sense. So when Iris learns about a whale that makes sounds at a different frequency than other whales - a whale that travels by itself and can't seem to find a group that understands what it's saying - she feels compelled to make a difference.
There is a lot of plot happening in this book, but the author makes it work. There is isolation from not being understood, fixing machines, a friend who likes astronomy and attends a school for people who are deaf, where his mother is the principal, loss of a grandfather and the resultant depression and change in the grandmother, the struggle to communicate and get along at school, and the whale. The part about the whale and the communication is the most compelling for me, and the second most interesting part is the way Iris fixes old machines - that could almost be a separate book.
I love Iris' determination, and the way you feel frustrated for her, but not sorry for her. The book invites readers to reflect about what it means to feel separate from a group without hammering a message about how to behave. Kelly has combined some realistic beauty and pain for a unique character with a distinctive topic and focus from typical middle grade books. She also captures the passion and single-minded focus that rings true for this age group; complicated by multiple factors including age limitations, but inspiring.
"Only about twenty hertz off, but it made a big difference. He was speaking a language only he knew.
If you like this book, you may also like . . .