An open-ended meditation on loneliness and connection, told in crisscrossing email threads.
Whale-obsessed ninth-grader James sends a hopeful email to Darren, the classroom volunteer he remembers from his eighth-grade social-skills class. Darren, a broken-hearted would-be documentarian making a pittance as a production assistant on a junky sitcom, writes back. Deeply concerned about the welfare of a particular whale, Salt, James also starts writing to Peter, a cetologist tracking humpback whales at the Greater New England Whale Conservancy. Peter, worried about his long-lost sister’s well-being, does his best to help. Everyone—unbeknown to everyone else—is reaching out for an authentic connection. It’s a worthy, sincere theme, and co-authors Sommer and Tilghman pull off a number of genuinely affecting and funny moments, but these are not enough to overcome the thinness of the narrative and structural conceits. Too many of the email exchanges are overburdened with exposition that doesn’t make sense in context, and other conversations just don’t feel genuine. Readers will root for James, but his characterization relies heavily on clichés about people on the autistic spectrum, while the handling of Darren's post-breakup stalking of his ex-girlfriend is entirely too breezy. The huge number of narrative threads—many left untied—reflect the ongoing-ness of real life, but readers are left feeling like they just viewed a PG-mashup of Garden State and Crash.
This briefest of novels might have been more satisfying as a robust short story. (Epistolary novel. 12-15)