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Banned Books Week: Whale Talk, by Chris Crutcher

Last week, in addition to Captain Underpants, I read another book on the American Library Association's most-challenged list: Whale Talk, by Chris Crutcher. "Racism" is given as one reason for the challenge, but the young-adult novel is about racism.

T.J. Jones, an adopted mixed-race teenager, forms a swim team of misfits to challenge the dominant jock culture at Cutter High School. The story moves quickly, and the psychological motivations of the characters ring true. (Crutcher has been a child and family therapist.) Whale Talk is written for mature readers; abuse—physical, emotional, sexual—fuels much of the story line. Some of the characters use profanity; one abuser uses the N word,  too.

Despite some hard-to-believe plot twists and a hero that's almost too good to be true, Whale Talk would probably provide fodder for a classroom discussion. If I were a teacher, though, I'd look for something else, most likely a book written more subtly.

Link: Seattle Post-Intelligencer interview with author Chris Crutcher


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Ohmigod! Someone else who doesn't think that book is the greatest thing since sliced bread!

WEB, I wanted to like it more than I did. Did you review it?

I totally understand the problems some people have with the book, but I just love the characters so much that it's easy for me to overlook any flaws.

Chris Crutcher is a wonderful writer, but I disagree on how his books are being banned for censorship reasons. Our children are hearing this profanity and worse every day at school. It wouldn't come as a shock to them to read the profanity in Whale Talk.

The abuse dealt with there along with the jocks-have-all-the-power motif is quite true and happens all over the USA. People cover it up too much and show that no good comes of it, so thank God Chris Crutcher is helping the underdogs and taking a stand!

I am a student from hadley junior high. It is true that we hear bad words at school and it is no different hearing them in a book. I read Whale Talk, and I think that it is a good book that everyone should read for how it hits you in the heart.

- Corey Kotsakis

Thanks for checking in. Isn't it great when you find a book you like?

You said, "Despite some hard-to-believe plot twists..." which, in part, explains why the book is so often banned. Whether or not its hard to believe depends a lot on your life experience. If, like Chris, you've worked with kids at risk, kids in dangerous home environments, the plot twists are EASY to believe. If you haven't, you resist the concept that life can be so hard for some kids. It's only natural.

We tend to want to protect our kids, again, only natural. But even if they aren't suffering the way kids might in Crutcher novels, they are sitting next to kids in school who are. One in three girls is sexually mistreated before the age of 18. One in seven boys suffers the same fate. And that stat doesn't even take into consideration physical abuse that isn't sexual in nature, or verbal abuse that tears at the soul, not the flesh.

Once you know about those kids, Chris's plot twists are nothing but real. I loved the book. One of my all time favorites.


I do know that many, many children are/have been involved in terrible, violent situations.

I am in no way arguing for the banning of this book. I am giving my opinion of some aspects of the writing.

It has been six months since I read Whale Talk, but one of the plot twists that I found unbelievable was when the therapist brought in the teenaged protagonist to work with the abused young girl, both of whom were the therapist's clients. For the purposes of plot, I understand this move, but the therapist's action struck me as highly unusual and unprofessional, and thus, hard to believe. Prior to that time, Crutcher had given no indication that the therapist was anything but wonderful AND professional.

My name is Matt Shaffer and i attend watkins high school in ohio and this book is reailty. The stuff this book explains what people not in school needs to know. The profanity in this book is what i hear everyday at school from about 90% of the kids here and teachers and most of the kids here hear those words at home.

Matt Shaffer

Hey, thanks for writing in. I mention the profanity because some people look for books that avoid it. That's all.

Susan, the therapist in Whale Talk, Georgia, didn't BRING TJ in to work with Heidi. TJ stopped by to say hello to his old therapist and Heidi reacted. It was an organic interaction, not a play therapist asking a teen to help her do her job. Once it began to unfold, Georgia -- with TJ's approval -- let it play out, hoping to gain a fuller understanding of her 4-year-old client. But she didn't recruit TJ to help. It just happened. And because TJ's character was so compassionate, because he'd been through years of therapy himself, he was willing to let the child grieve beside him. It was a terribly moving, tender scene that helped us understand the brutality of racism and the depth of TJ's chracter.

If you found it unbelieveable, okay. To each their own. I fully support your right to disagree with me, of course. That's why we have diversity of choice in our libraries. But let's accurately portray the scene so others aren't misled.


Kelly, what's up with the hectoring tone? In your first post, you imply that a reader who finds any fault with the book must lack life experience. Then when I elaborate, the responding post nitpicks the explanation. There's no winning here. You see that, right?

Since there's a photograph of you and Chris Crutcher at your web site, I take it he is a friend of yours. I'm sure you know his books well. I have read only "Whale Talk." It looks like we will have to agree to disagree.

Nothing "hectoring" about my tone or my opinion. I just don't agree with you. Knowing Crutcher has nothing to do with it. Knowing abused kids does.


Kelly, you are Chris Crutcher's assistant, yes? And the web master for his site?

All good wishes.


I want to read the book!

If you'd like to report back when you read it, please do!

This book is a great novel for high schoolers, the profanity is about as normal as it is in my school, so it shouldn't even be an issue. i hope to buy more of his books ($5 allowance, don't ask) soon!

Thanks for stopping by, Professor. :) This would be a great book for classroom libraries; Chris Crutcher has many, many fans. I can see a lot of kids reading and liking this book during free-read times.

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