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September 27, 2010

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Darn, I missed that! Also missed where you asked for my review. Here, very belatedly, it is:

Whale Talk by Chris Crutcher. Greenwillow, 2001 (0-688-18019-1) $15.95

A melting-pot of genes have done well by T.J. Jones: he's smart, good-looking and athletic. But though he loves sports, his school's debasing attitude towards them is enough to keep him away from anything organized: "they pray before games and cajole you to play out of obligation, and fans scream obscenities at one another from the stands." The symbol of it all, "the Shroud of Turin for Cutter High athletes," is the letter jacket, and T.J. prides himself on not having earned one. But when a teacher asks him to put together a swim team from scratch, T.J. realizes that this could be a chance to put letter jackets on the backs of some very unexpected students: "a group of real outsiders, a group Cutter High School has offered very little to." For one of the few "people 'of color' in a part of the country where Mark Fuhrman has his own radio talk show," the chance to help other outsiders is not to be missed, no matter how strenuous--or dangerous--the opposition.

In many ways, this is the mixture as before from Crutcher; the sharp, cocky narrative voice and give-'em-hell progressive attitudes are pretty familiar. Unfortunately, so is a tendency to pile on the drama. It starts to seem that everybody in the book has been through some kind of wringer, each worse than the last; horror piles upon horror until it's hard to care much anymore. And this is at the expense of the basic story, which is a damn good story and deserves more attention. I would hate to accuse a terrific writer like Crutcher of pandering, but I miss his focus on the internal drama of sports and relationships, which seem to be getting lost in violent movie-of-the-week subplots.

Incidentally, I have no trouble at all accusing the designers of the book of pandering: the cover, showing a distinctly white boy running in an athletic jacket, could not be less reflective of what the book is actually about if it showed two little girls having a tea-party.

Oh, dear. I somehow missed that post utterly - and I think that though I enjoy Whale Talk, for under the category of "racism," there are books which have fewer subsidiary issues and are more straightforward in dealing with race. On the other hand, there are a lot of books wherein African American characters are in the main, and yet race is an elephant in the living room and is never directly addressed. Hm.. lots of classroom discussions flowing in my head.

I'm sorry you guys had a contentious conversation - it's too easy to have misunderstandings in written conversation.

Wendy, excellent review! Thank you for sending it. On that older post, I really did enjoy hearing from the kids about a favorite book. But that is pitiful about the cover, just pitiful. Gads.

Tanita, there is a lot going on in Whale Talk. I know what you mean about the elephant in the living room. I see it often in real life in any number of situations.

Book banning is about idea banning. One thing I admired about Whale Talk was that it did not shy away from ideas, some of them difficult ideas to discuss. If we--and the children who read these books--do talk about the ideas, then that's a good thing.

When my kiddo is older, I think he'll like Chris Crutcher's books a lot.

Thanks Susan. I've been saving my Crutchers for my son. One of the things I really enjoyed about many of them is the way they made "sports" books work for me (The quintessential picked last kid) and I hope they'll for him too.

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