In pre–World War I Australia, 12-year-old Savannah Dawson wants to be a whaler like her father.
She knows whaling is in her blood, however, as a girl, she is stuck as a cook’s helper. Given the chance, she would gladly follow in her father’s footsteps even though that is how both her brothers lost their lives. Her mother has also passed away, and her absence is palpable. Through her new friend, Figgie, an Indigenous boy whose real name is Calagun—Savannah renames him after an ineffectual attempt to pronounce it—she learns about Indigenous beliefs positioning orcas as the guardians of the Earth and the need to live in harmony with nature. As she comprehends the balance between whaling and the beasts of the deep, she has increasingly cryptic dreams. Meanwhile, industrialization is encroaching thanks to wealthy American investor Jacob Bittermen, who wants to introduce factory processes to whaling. Savannah, who is White by default, is a well-developed, three-dimensional character who starts off only caring about her own goals but grows through her friendships. Whaling terms and Australian slang add atmosphere and pull readers deeper into the colorful world. Unfortunately, the Indigenous characters feed into tropes of mystical guides. Figgie is not as well rounded as Savannah; his actions support her journey of self-discovery, but apart from that, he does not appear to have a purpose in the story.
A strong sense of place and an appealing protagonist cannot overcome outdated stereotypes of Indigenous people.(list of abbreviations, glossary) (Historical fiction. 12-14)