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.