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Song for Whale by Lynne Kelly

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Content/Trigger Warnings: Grief, loss of a loved one, minor bullying/harassment, abandonment/isolation

“He keeps singing this song, and everything in the ocean swims by him, as if he’s not there. He thinks no one understands him. I want to let him know he’s wrong about that.”

Friends, I’m feeling incredibly soft and sappy after reading Song with a Whale. This book is about so much, offers so much and I still can’t believe how much passion radiates from this book. I have fallen head over heels for this book and I can only hope many others will give this book a chance like I did. If you find yourself looking for a book that offers hope in dark times, immense passion, and unconditional desire to find a place in the world then this is a book you need to pick up.

Iris is a twelve year old tech genius who’s the only deaf person in her school. She struggles to fit in because most of the staff and students treat her like she’s not very smart. Constantly feeling isolated, alone, and like no one is listening to you, Iris keeps trying to find a small bit of understanding. Until her science teacher reveals Blue 55, a whale who is unable to speak with other whales, and suddenly Iris’s world has opened up a little more. Now Iris is making it her mission to help this whale and to let him know, he’s not alone and someone out there understands him.

I fell in love with Iris right away. She is so intelligent and works so hard at computer repairing. I think it’s absolutely incredible and it’s so unique to finally see a character like Iris in a middle grade book. I adored her even more when we truly get to see her desire to meet Blue 55 and how she would stop for nothing to meet this whale. That passion was so beautiful to read about and watch unfold in this book. Not to mention the way her relationships with her family and friends flourished in this book was something so raw and realistic that you really become sucked in. I also think the author did a wonderful job expressing to the reader Iris’s isolation, her loneliness, and her desire to be around others who understood her and her struggles.

Iris is such a great character and I love how inspired she became in this book. While I mentioned that she is a tech prodigy, the way she goes about handle the “puzzle” of Blue 55 was so captivating and I really enjoyed reading how Iris wanted to help Blue 55. Blue 55 is a whale who sings on a different frequency than other whales and therefore he can’t really communicate with other whales or pods. So Iris creates this master plan of recreating a song that he’ll be able to understand and on the exact frequency that Blue 55 communicates on. With the help of some old radio parts, the school’s music class, and the knowledge she’s learned about Blue 55, Iris creates the perfect way to communicate with Blue 55.

Out of all this book though, I loved the family dynamic and I love the way Iris talks about her grandfather. I’m a huge sap for books that have a family focus and this book has so much family focus. I love how we see the challenges in a family and the struggles of trying to communicate with one another. I loved how the death of a loved one can be a reason to bridge two family members together. And most of all, I love how the death of a loved one can imprint on us and how bit and pieces of them can inspire us in a time of healing, to never stop living. It was a beautiful underlying theme and I adored how lyrically it was woven into the story. I also like how near the end we saw the internal struggles of a mother feeling like she will never be needed only to be reassured that she will always be needed by her child. I read that and it felt like a thousand bolts of lightning to the soul. It was so moving and impactful, it had me thinking about my own mother and how I still need her thoughts and opinions on things from time to time. It was a brilliant way to show the meaning and importance of family.

While I can’t relate on a deep personal level with this book, I do have family members from my spouse’s side who are going deaf and have to use equipment to help enhance their hearing. So this book does touch home for me and this was such an important read for me. I also really appreciate while the author isn’t deaf, herself, she is a sign language interpreter and she based this story off a lot of her own experiences with the children she has encountered in her career. I also really loved that she went into more details in the back of the book on deafness and sign language. I think it will help many readers better understand where Iris’s character comes from and what inspired her to be who she is in this book.

“Your music sailed through the ocean
and over the land
and carried me here.
Sing your song.”

My only issue with this book was the perspective of the whale or Blue 55. While I don’t think this will be an issue for middle grade children who read this book, this was something that definitely threw me off from time to time when that perspective would pop up. I think for many readers who aren’t used to reading middle grade, I think that will be something that will throw them off or be difficult to look past especially since there’s only a small handful that are thrown in there. I also want to take a moment to further explain the “minor bullying” in this book. There are quite a few things that will stick out in this book that caught my attention and I wanted to take a moment to discuss them. The first issue is a teacher who constantly picks on Iris and pins Iris to be unintelligent. So the teacher constantly goes out of her way to cause a scene and make Iris feel like she’s less intellectual than the other students in her class. The second issue is the student who thinks she knows how to preform sign language. She’s constantly getting into Iris’s personal space, there are scenes of her preforming “sign language” in Iris’s face, and this student doesn’t stop when she is asked to stop. These are the two biggest issues with these side characters. I personally interpret as minor bullying or minor harassment, but for other readers it might not be too big of an issue. I just found it to be a hard thing to forget and a lot of those actions to be unforgivable because of how inappropriate they were during specific times during this book.

Overall, this book was an emotional read and as I said, this book does hit close to home. It’s such an important read especially for any child who has big struggles. There’s just so much inspiration, hope, and determination in this book that the author brings to life so well. I definitely recommend this to anyone who wants to feel inspired, needing of hope, or just wanting to read a more fascinating book. The author truly did a marvelous job with this book.

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