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A 52-Hertz Whale
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A 52-Hertz Whale

3.78  ·  Rating details ·  157 ratings  ·  41 reviews
In the YA epistolary novel an unlikely friendship develops via email correspondence between 14-year-old James, who studies the Urban Dictionary in hopes of making sense of his bewildering peer interactions, and 23-year old Darren, who is trying to win back his ex-girlfriend while doing grunt work on the set of a sitcom.
Published September 1st 2015 by Carolrhoda Lab
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3.78  · 
Rating details
 ·  157 ratings  ·  41 reviews

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Maggie Stiefvater
Aug 19, 2015 rated it it was amazing

1. It's told entirely in e-mails. As a writer, I understand that yes, this is a gimmick. I have a high-gimmick tolerance, though, as long it doesn't get in the way of my emotional or intellectual enjoyment of a book. With 52, it worked for me. It might not for you, though, so I'm putting it right here as #1. Full disclosure. Emails.

2. With that out of the way, I can tell you that I found the two main characters of this book — a disenchanted, heartbroken film
Jun 11, 2015 rated it really liked it
This was a quirky and strange look at friendship in the technology era. James is a 14-year old with autism (not explicitly stated, but understood) who has a fixation on whales. He knows everything there is to know about them, and even follows a pod online. When one of the whales, Salt, separates from the group and is beached, James panics and contacts a most unlikely ally...a 20-something volunteer he once met in his special education class.

Told only through email exchanges, this story is wacky
Sreeni Nair
Jan 08, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Another YA book, which seems to be the type of all the little fiction I read these days.

I had bought this book for my teenage daughter as a Christmas present since I thought it's a bit different from all the dystopian stuff that she reads normally. Also, because I like whales. Having nothing to read last weekend, I picked it up and started reading.

The book is good. It has a lot of things I like - whales, teenage love, random scientific facts, phrases and expressions in foreign languages etc. ini
Sep 11, 2015 rated it really liked it
I loved this quirky book, filled with characters who were real and funny and broken and learning and triumphant and awkward and delightful.

Written all in emails, this story actually has several stories as the emails draw in other characters beside the two main characters. If you like character stories, this is a great one!
Jan 02, 2016 rated it liked it
Read review in its entirety at

A 52-Hertz Whale is the debut novel of authors Natalie Tilghman and Bill Sommer. A clever write-up of conversational emails, swapped between different characters, constructs this work of fiction giving it a distinct style.

The two main characters--James, an offbeat teen obsessed with whales, and Darren, a somewhat egotistical 20-something who's brokenhearted, converge viewpoints as they help one another through their exponenti
To pass the time, my friends and I would sometimes write stories by passing the paper back and forth: I write a paragraph, you write a paragraph type thing. Apparently, that's how the authors wrote this book--by emailing each other in character, and it's brilliant! I thoroughly enjoyed reading this odd little book. It felt like eavesdropping on strangers' conversations, but who doesn't like to do that?

We have James, the freshman who doesn't fit in with anyone anywhere, and lacks vital social ski
As humans, living in a world of noise, chaos, and humanity, there is that need for silence, at times. But, loneliness and it's ever-constant silence can be deafening. James, a high school student with a learning disability, (maybe Aspergers?) is obsessed with whales. Darren is a 23-year-old, down on his luck, stuck in a dead-end job, floundering, lovesick production assistant. James and Darren met nearly a year ago when Darren was serving community service for his stalking. He was helping the cl ...more
Dec 31, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
An epistolary novel for today's YA reader, A 52-Hertz Whale is a story told through emails. James is an awkward, dorky high school student obsessed with whales and struggling with adolescence. Darren, a 20-something college grad and aspiring filmmaker, is a bit taken aback when James starts emailing him out of the blue. After all, Darren only met him the one time. But this unlikely pairing blooms into a real friendship that helps both of them grow.

I don't read much YA literature, but I found thi
Oct 14, 2015 rated it liked it
Finally got around to this as part of #readathon. It was cute. I think it was the perfect book to kick off the Readathon. I liked the idea of building relationships online. Seems fitting today.

Also, I was totally whale boy when I was a kid. I had the sponsored humpback and the photos and everything, so that bit held a special place in my heart.

I loved the main narrative between Darren and Whaleboy but honestly felt that the side stories were hit or miss. I ended up skimming some.

Overall good bu
Jul 22, 2015 rated it liked it
*Received this from Netgalley for an honest review*

Since this book is entirely in email format, it is back and forth between different people over a time period. In the end it comes together. I'm not sure if the title was a 100% appropriate, but I didn't think the book would be about a boy growing up.

I think if it wasn't in email format I would have never had finished it, but I had to stick it out to see how it finished.
Literary Princess
I thought thought this book was really sweet and awkwardly authentic. The format (entirely written through emails) threw me at first; it was a little challenging to figure out character connections for a bit. But then the voices became clear to me, and I really enjoyed the difference from standard style.

Light and quirky without much language. Some crude references and a drinking scene hold it out of middle grade level, but I think most teens could handle it without discomfort.
Jamie L
Aug 20, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: ya
Very quick read (email format).
If you're a neat-and-tidy-ending person, this may not be for you.
This book is extremely character driven (practically doesn't have a plot), and I thought the characters were very engaging and well written.
I've already emailed my nephew to point him toward this book.
Engrossing and surprisingly sweet this tale of friendship shows that a bond can find anyone anywhere. Written through a series of emails the story winds down a road of funny and poignant moments that illustrate how many ways one can truly care for a friend. Lots of lessons about love, life and death can be taken away from this story.
Oct 02, 2015 rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed this book. Perhaps it's because of the voyeuristic nature of reading other peoples' mail. It was interesting to watch the friendship between James and Darren develop and, while Darren offered helpful advice to James, it was probably James who matured the most.
Miranda Lynn
DNF after 40ish pages

This is an "it's me, not you" situation. I knew that the main character was 15 years old, I just didn't realize that it would read quite so middle grade. And that's really not my thing. He seemed more like 12 years old, in my opinion.
Great Books
Mar 15, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: ages-15-18
When taciturn high school freshman (and relentless whale enthusiast) James finds himself facing an urgent problem, he reaches out to Darren, a, 20-something aspiring filmmaker with ex-girlfriend baggage. Told with humor over a series of emails. Reviewer 20.
Diana Sims
Dec 22, 2015 rated it really liked it
A cute YA read, written as a group of emails, from a high school freshman, who is totally enthralled with whales, and a young filmmaker, along with various other students and family members. Funny, poignant.
Taylor Patterson
Sep 15, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Not actually about a whale

Read this book based on a review and couldn't put it down. Read it in only a few hours. Written entirely as emails which proved to be easier to follow than I thought it would be.
Feb 20, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Nice fun easy read YA book.
Josh Martin
Sep 28, 2015 rated it really liked it
This was a sweet, funny story with a lot of depth.
Apr 28, 2016 rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed this totally unique book. I love books written in letter and email form so this was perfect for me. The quirkiness factor helped a lot too.
Two young men with fixations exchange emails, advice and friendship in this truly quirky story.
Great for late middle school and early high school.
Harald Koch
Sep 02, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Maggie Stiefvater made me read this book and I'm very happy that she did. You should read it too.
Jul 10, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: arc-galley, 2015
OMG one of the authors lives in Glenview...
Megan Clancy
Oct 29, 2017 rated it really liked it
An interesting story told in a very unique way. Quite the page-turner.
Jan 11, 2017 rated it did not like it
Shelves: ya, read-in-2017
I am sorry but wtf kind of kid needs urban dictionary. This kid used urban dictionary for "psyched" "legit" and "binge watching." Like wow. I am just. Wow. NO! This book was so horrendously written by a old guy trying to be hip and with it that I rolled my eyes so hard I think I saw heaven. I am sorry but no.
MaryKate Hickey
Mar 03, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This was simply a charming story. The characters were quirky and lovable, and the email format was perfect for the target audience. I don't usually read YA but was glad I made an exception for this. I am recommending this to my nieces and nephews who are heading into middle school, and to their parents - this would be a great family book club read for families with kids in that awkward stage of life!
Jun 24, 2015 rated it really liked it
Picture this: A boy obsessed with whales. A man obsessed with film and an ex-girlfriend. An unexpected e-mail that leads to another and another and another.

14-year-old James sends an e-mail to Darren, a guy who helped out with a film project at his school. This sets off ripples through their lives as e-mails bounce between them and get forwarded, analyzed, interrupted, and joined by a repertoire of others.

James wants to find out what happened to Salt, the whale he sponsored and has been tracking
Meg Matthias
Apr 01, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2016
Ridiculously charming for a novel told in emails, A 52-HERTZ WHALE is certainly a success. Told in exchanges between an ex-film student obsessed with his ex and a socially-challenged high-schooler obsessed with whales (with other exchanges peppered in), the novel created a world within internet communications. The voice of each character is remarkably strong, everyone speaking with such consistent force that it's at first difficult to believe that the text was the work of two people. Evidentally ...more
Vilde Matilde
Feb 10, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: young-adult
Passing this by random on amazon, I got it thinking it would be more concerned with whales, which is a great interest of mine. Admittedly, I was a little disappointed at first, as whales do frequent, but not necessarily as much as I'd like. Oh well. It is still a good read.
Composed entirely of emails, allowing the reader the feeling of eavesdropping and it works well as a "on the go" read, as you could finish an email fairly quickly on say the bus and then"wait" for the response until your next
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Email the main characters! 1 3 Aug 30, 2015 07:42AM  

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Bill Sommer writes fiction and screenplays and plays the drums. He is co-author, with Natalie Haney Tilghman, of A 52 Hertz Whale. His work has appeared in The Whitefish Review and in the New Libri press Coffee Shorts series. He is the screenwriter of the film Tony Tango, winner of Best Feature Film at the Chicago Comedy Film Festival. He has an MFA in Creative Writing from the Rainier Writers Wor ...more