A sluggish but insightful tale with laudable characters—both aquatic and terrestrial.

THE DOLPHIN CODE

An autistic boy has the special ability to communicate with dolphins—who want to use him to relay an important message to humans—in Boudreault’s sci-fi debut.

Four-year-old Corey surprises his parents, Ryan and Kelly Sheppard, when he seems to summon dolphins to their boat. A female dolphin, Sica Three, manages to send a telepathic message to Corey: “We are dying. They are killing us.” The Sheppards, who live in a Newfoundland port town, know their son is unique. He sometimes falls into a “trance,” when he suddenly freezes. At 8, Corey has a particularly bad episode after seeing images of a dolphin in peril and witnessing its death shortly thereafter. A doctor subsequently diagnoses him with autism, a disorder unfamiliar to his parents. Tragedy follows when Ryan and Kelly are lost at sea. Corey’s uncle Max Wheeler and paternal grandfather, Josiah, take the boy in. When it’s apparent that Corey can translate dolphins’ sounds, Max contacts the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts. At WHOI, Corey uses his unique connection to dolphins, which includes interpreting the dolphins’ vocalizations as images, to decipher what the mammals are trying to convey. But even telepathic conversations are cryptic. They want “the key,” something humans already have that can help the dolphins. Meanwhile, orca Valkot, leader of a pod of his own kind, disagrees with his dolphin cousins’ peaceful exchanges with humans. He’s partial to attacking humans instead and intent on initiating an aquatic civil war. Boudreault’s novel has a conspicuous but topical environmental theme. Sica Three, for example, references humans’ “poisons” in a conversation with Corey, while Valkot is more specifically enraged by cetacean deaths from oil spills or ships’ propellers. While readers are aware of Valkot’s objective, what the dolphins want—namely, the key —is a mystery until the end. The orcas, despite their sympathetic plight, are notable villains of the sea, as their assaults against boats are devastating and sometimes lethal. There is, however, much less narrative conflict on land. The CIA is a potential threat in the United States, as it may nose into WHOI’s research, but that’s a subplot that never quite gets off the ground. The author treats Corey’s autism intelligently. His parents, for one, persistently work to understand his condition, even prior to its official diagnosis.  And though Corey requires his family’s special attention, he likewise displays certain traits of autism that come across as winsome. This includes his literalism, which leads Corey to believe Woods Hole is an actual hole in the forest. The story moves at an unhurried but consistent clip (the passing years see Corey reach his teens). But the lengthy segment at WHOI slows the story even further and involves copious scientific discussions. Nevertheless, Corey has an appealing relationship with the WHOI director’s autistic daughter, Megan McGuin, with whom he telepathically converses.

A sluggish but insightful tale with laudable characters—both aquatic and terrestrial.

Pub Date: Jan. 23, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-947966-00-0

Page Count: 298

Publisher: WiDo Publishing

Review Posted Online: April 17, 2019

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Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the...

FLY AWAY

Hannah’s sequel to Firefly Lane (2008) demonstrates that those who ignore family history are often condemned to repeat it.

When we last left Kate and Tully, the best friends portrayed in Firefly Lane, the friendship was on rocky ground. Now Kate has died of cancer, and Tully, whose once-stellar TV talk show career is in free fall, is wracked with guilt over her failure to be there for Kate until her very last days. Kate’s death has cemented the distrust between her husband, Johnny, and daughter Marah, who expresses her grief by cutting herself and dropping out of college to hang out with goth poet Paxton. Told mostly in flashbacks by Tully, Johnny, Marah and Tully’s long-estranged mother, Dorothy, aka Cloud, the story piles up disasters like the derailment of a high-speed train. Increasingly addicted to prescription sedatives and alcohol, Tully crashes her car and now hovers near death, attended by Kate’s spirit, as the other characters gather to see what their shortsightedness has wrought. We learn that Tully had tried to parent Marah after her father no longer could. Her hard-drinking decline was triggered by Johnny’s anger at her for keeping Marah and Paxton’s liaison secret. Johnny realizes that he only exacerbated Marah’s depression by uprooting the family from their Seattle home. Unexpectedly, Cloud, who rebuffed Tully’s every attempt to reconcile, also appears at her daughter’s bedside. Sixty-nine years old and finally sober, Cloud details for the first time the abusive childhood, complete with commitments to mental hospitals and electroshock treatments, that led to her life as a junkie lowlife and punching bag for trailer-trash men. Although powerful, Cloud’s largely peripheral story deflects focus away from the main conflict, as if Hannah was loath to tackle the intractable thicket in which she mired her main characters.

Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the pages turning even as readers begin to resent being drawn into this masochistic morass.

Pub Date: April 23, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-312-57721-6

Page Count: 416

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2013

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THE COLDEST WINTER EVER

Debut novel by hip-hop rap artist Sister Souljah, whose No Disrespect (1994), which mixes sexual history with political diatribe, is popular in schools country-wide. In its way, this is a tour de force of black English and underworld slang, as finely tuned to its heroine’s voice as Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. The subject matter, though, has a certain flashiness, like a black Godfather family saga, and the heroine’s eventual fall develops only glancingly from her character. Born to a 14-year-old mother during one of New York’s worst snowstorms, Winter Santiaga is the teenaged daughter of Ricky Santiaga, Brooklyn’s top drug dealer, who lives like an Arab prince and treats his wife and four daughters like a queen and her princesses. Winter lost her virginity at 12 and now focuses unwaveringly on varieties of adolescent self-indulgence: sex and sugar-daddies, clothes, and getting her own way. She uses school only as a stepping-stone for getting out of the house—after all, nobody’s paying her to go there. But if there’s no money in it, why go? Meanwhile, Daddy decides it’s time to move out of Brooklyn to truly fancy digs on Long Island, though this places him in the discomfiting position of not being absolutely hands-on with his dealers; and sure enough the rise of some young Turks leads to his arrest. Then he does something really stupid: he murders his wife’s two weak brothers in jail with him on Riker’s Island and gets two consecutive life sentences. Winter’s then on her own, especially with Bullet, who may have replaced her dad as top hood, though when she selfishly fails to help her pregnant buddy Simone, there’s worse—much worse—to come. Thinness aside: riveting stuff, with language so frank it curls your hair. (Author tour)

Pub Date: April 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-671-02578-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Pocket

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1999

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