A debut novel follows an orphan living in a Bahamas resort who aids a baby dolphin.
Toby Matthias was orphaned at age 11, having lost his parents in a 1954 plane crash. Now he resides with his grandparents Vernon, aka Pop, and Irene, helping them run their Bahamian Out Island resort on the fictitious Piper Cay and commuting to school on the island of Nassau. He spends his free time learning how to sail, fish, and run his grandfather’s small power launch. What Toby lacks, living on an isolated island, is a close friend. That’s about to change. It is March 1957, and a baby bottlenose dolphin is jumping and emitting frantic clicks and cries at the end of the island’s garbage pier. Toby grabs his knife and swims over to investigate the commotion. The calf’s mother is entangled in fishing nets and unable to surface for air. Toby cuts the nets and frees the mother, earning the gratitude, and gradually the love, of the calf he names Phinney. In a fanciful idyll, Schmidt traces their friendship over the course of 12 years, as boy and dolphin play together and then move into adulthood, separating and reconnecting periodically. Readers follow Phinney as she travels with her pod and Toby when he attends school on the mainland, joins the Navy, and becomes an aircraft carrier pilot in Vietnam. Schmidt employs a split point of view approach, alternating between Toby’s perspective and Phinney’s, resulting in two well-developed characters. The book is filled with charming vignettes of their interactions, as when Phinney worries because Toby has switched from free diving to using scuba equipment: she knows the human cannot possibly stay underwater long. The author’s own passion for the sea and extensive sailing experience add a knowledgeable extra dimension that brings readers right into the enticing water. Despite Schmidt’s claim that he possesses no “special” knowledge of dolphins, his detailed descriptions of their physiology and cooperative social behavior remain informative and compelling. This joyful, imaginative fantasy feels so real that readers should willingly suspend their disbelief for the sheer pleasure of the ride.
A delightful and humorous wish-fulfillment tale about interspecies bonding, engaging until the very end.