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WHALE TALK by Chris Crutcher

WHALE TALK

By Chris Crutcher

Age Range: 14 & up

Pub Date: April 30th, 2001
ISBN: 0-688-18019-1
Publisher: Greenwillow/HarperCollins

High-school senior The Tao (T.J.) Jones has learned to live with his status as the only student of color in his small, rural high school, but he has never learned to accept the school's suffocating reverence for the athletic establishment. When his ultra-cool English teacher approaches T.J. to swim for the school's brand-new team, T.J. looks beyond the negatives—there is no competition-size pool in town, there are no other competitive swimmers in the school, and he absolutely hates organized sports—to one overwhelming positive: this is his way of giving the finger to the school's stultifying sports culture. He assembles a team of out-and-out losers that would make James Watt proud: "we have one swimmer of color, a representative from each end of the educational spectrum, a muscle man, a giant, a chameleon, and a one-legged psychopath. When I envision us walking seven abreast through the halls of Cutter High, decked out in the sacred blue and gold, my heart swells." There is no shortage of raw emotion in this story. The swim-team members indulge in lengthy informal therapy sessions on their bus trips to away meets, and one subplot involves T.J.'s growing attachment to a little biracial girl whose mother cannot protect her from the vicious racist attacks of her own stepfather—who also happens to be the school's biggest athletic booster. In the hands of a lesser storyteller, the tale would fall apart under its own weight, but Crutcher (Ironman, 1995, etc.) juggles the disparate elements of his plot with characteristic energy, crafting a compulsively readable story that rings true with genuine feeling and is propelled by exhilarating swimming action to an ending that is both cataclysmic and triumphant. A welcome return. (Fiction. YA)