Chris Crutcher's YA novel, set in Spokane about a decade ago, still ranks right up there with the very best fiction for young people. Drawing on his background as a family therapist and a child protection specialist, Crutcher gets everything about teenagers just right, without ever seeming forced or patronizing. And the protagonist here, T.J. Jones, immediately captures both our attention and our admiration without ever coming across as too perfect. In fact, T.J.'s quick temper, the product of abuse in his toddler years, acts as a realistic catalyst for some of the action in Whale Talk, which centers around the ragtag swim team he and his English teacher pull together in a sports-dominated high school, as well as the racism T.J. regularly deals with as one of the few mixed-raced people in his town.
If you haven't read much realistic YA fiction and you're a stickler for a strong read, I suggest starting here. You'll see all the typical tropes and themes of the genre done as well as they can be done, given their inherent limitations. Crutcher is always pitch-perfect where many other solid writers strike a cheesy chord, and while you'll see every aspect of typical teenage life here - even some that many adults would rather not know about - you'll also catch a glimpse of the true, often-understated heroism that teenagers are also fully capable of.
I don't want to give too much more away, so I'll just say: Whale Talk is a quick and gripping read, so if you're traveling this season, it might be just the thing to make a long plane ride fly by.
p.s. My action? Humbled by the work ethic of the swimmers in Whale Talk, I have taken a personal vow to re-double my own "practices", hitting weights and additional strength on the days I don't do my bodyflow class. That means working out 7 days a week. If they can do it, I can try! AND I will also make it a point to notice those people who often go unnoticed this week, to offer them my mindfully curious gaze. If I make both these steps into habits, just imagine the positive impact I could have on my own wellbeing and others' too...
As always, I'll let you know how it turns out.