This debut YA adventure features two teenagers whose lives intersect after an orca attack at an aquatic theme park.
Thirteen-year-old Terra Incognita Lewis has grown up in a family of scientists who study the killer whales of Washington state’s Puget Sound. She’s tried to teach the whales Morse code using a hydrophone and a drum, and recently, she dreamed of a new calf being born to the pod. As Terra and her best friend, Tiluk, wonder whether the pod’s leader, Granny, communicated this dream information to her, Terra’s parents learn of an emergency across the country in Florida. There, 14-year-old Miles Frost, along with his mother and younger sister, were at OceanLand to take in the “Lunch with Shantu” orca show. While eating, they witnessed the 12,000-pound animal kill an experienced trainer. To cope with the trauma, Miles sneaks into Shantu’s holding area before the park opens and plays music for the animal on his xylophone. Astonishingly, Shantu responds. Meanwhile, Terra and Tiluk learn from their parents that the deadly orca once belonged to the pod they’ve spent their lives studying. Terra researches the horrors that captive whales face and shares her knowledge through social media. Her communication with whales, however, has only just begun. Author Clark offers her audience doses of scientific information and spiritual richness. The depiction of the tragedy and of Puget Sound’s Southern Resident whales closely mirrors the story of Tilikum, the real-life orca whose murderous behavior features in the 2013 documentary Blackfish. The details included here (Shantu “looked like a dog who’d snatched a roast ham from the dining room table”) are sometimes shocking, though they’re necessary to deliver the full impact of Clark’s larger message. In the novel’s second half, Terra experiences a dream quest in which she learns about “The Fallacy,” “a feverish sickness” that has tricked people into believing they’re separate from nature. Although the depths of Terra’s eventual connectedness to the whales may be too abstract for younger readers, Clark goes above and beyond the call in revealing the grace inherent to all species. Wonderful black-and-white illustrations by Savory enhance the message.
A passionate tale that’s not only about whales, but also about the fate of the planet.