The second book in the middle-grade Animal Rescues series explores a boy’s adolescent insecurities and his uncomfortable relationship with his father.
Fourteen-year-old Austin, overweight and nicknamed Pudge, is an animal lover, good student, and enthusiastic “World of Warcraft” gamer. His mother left when he was young, and his father, a biologist for the Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito, thinks “video games are a waste of energy.” When Austin is caught gaming during school hours and suspended for two days, his father takes him to work, where they row out into the bay to survey whales. There, they encounter a humpback whale badly entangled in a fishing net, and Austin finds the real-life courage to swim next to the whale and cut her free, earning his father’s respect. An odd scene occurs when Austin, too out-of-shape to heave himself back into the boat, simply allows himself to begin to drift away while carrying on an imaginary conversation with a gamer-girl he met previously online—it’s unclear whether Halls intends this passive acceptance of possible death as a commentary on role-playing games. Despite this moment of confusion, though, readers will empathize with Austin’s first-person, present-tense narration as he sorts through the challenges of finding his own strengths and convictions.
Aimed toward a sensitive adolescent male audience, this story has a straightforward, interesting plot and simple, clear language. (Adventure. 9-14)