Jessica Abarquez's Reviews > Whale Talk

Whale Talk by Chris Crutcher
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's review
Feb 05, 2008

it was amazing
bookshelves: multicultural-lit
Read in February, 2008

** spoiler alert ** General response/reaction:
This novel blew me away. I could not imagine a group of guys who have had more tragedy happen in their lives. Each guy in this book had struggles they had to deal with and sometimes readers forget that men have problems too. It is easier to read stories about women and their emotional issues because women are more vocal about it. The men in this novel are so proud and strong to vocalize their struggles every day. Crutcher does a wonderful job exploring the wide range of emotions felt by each individual character in this novel. He focuses more on the male emotions and struggles, and composes those issues perfectly. I truly enjoyed reading this different perspective.

Subjects, Themes, and Big Ideas:

• Domestic violence
• Identity
• Acceptance
• Sports
• Rage
• Ignorance
• Discrimination
• Emotional healing
• Growth/ Development

• T.J. – main character, narrator of the novel, natural athlete, has a lot of rage problems but can control them, captain of the swim team
• Chris – a mentally challenged student who is a natural swimmer
• Mr. Simet – swim team coach
• Mr. Benson – football coach, feels that T.J. wasted his talent all four years by not going out for a “real” sports team
• Barbour – football team captain hates T.J.
• Mr. Jones – T.J.’s adopted father; teaches T.J. about whale talk

Plot summary:
T.J. is an adopted son trying to fit in at a school that prides itself of Athletics. Although T.J. is a natural athlete, he never participates in sports. When Mr. Simet asks T.J. to help him start a swim team, T.J. gets the most unlikely group of guys together. T.J.’s goal for the team is to gain the most coveted prize of Cutter High: The letter jacket. Since T.J. is not best friends with most of the Athletic Department, he believes that this group of unlikely mermen could embarrass the department by gaining those letters.

However, as the group trains and goes to competitions, each boy grows into a man. Each boy sheds his tough shell to reveal his softer side. The group bonds and soon this motley crew of swimmers become the closest of friends.

While the team is not the best, they continue to work hard and beat their personal best. Unfortunately, the personal life is not better. T.J. must deal with vindictive football players (and the coaches), domestic dispute problems, and living with his personal struggle of his mixed race.

Through all the difficulties, T.J. seems to make it through. He grows to care more about his team than himself and learns to channel his rage into other outlets (like helping children and swimming). He is able to help instill confidence in his fellow team members which leads Chris to beating Barbour in a swimming competition.

After the swim season is over, the group continues together to play basketball. While the game was clean, Marshall and Barbour do not take losing as well. Marshall goes crazy with the idea that he is losing his wife and kids and targets T.J.’s family. At the end of the basketball game, Marshall gets his rifle and points it at his own daughter. T.J.’s dad takes the bullet to save the girl.

By the end of the novel, T.J. learns how to control his rage and make real friends. He learns to accept his place in society and grows into a man.

Strengths (including reviews and awards):
• The book is raw and real. There is no holding back on any of the situations which makes the book harsher and more real. Crutcher doesn’t decorate his work; he tells it like it is.

Drawbacks or other cautions:
• Language, violence, traumatic experiences
• The teacher may want to caution students about these experiences so that everyone in the class is comfortable. There is no way of knowing if there is a student who has experienced some of these situations before.

Teaching ideas:
Whenever I read for this class, I think of teaching this book to high school kids. Here are my ideas:
• Journals – How bad is your family?
o This could be a pre-reading exercise. All the journals will remain confidential, but if anyone wants to volunteer to read theirs, it will be welcome. Some people won’t like their families because of curfew or other not-so-serious reasons. Hopefully, they will share these reasons and then as they read the book, realize how wonderful their life is.
• Explore each scenario
o There are so many different problems in this book. Maybe the class can be divided up to research each problem. For the domestic disputes, they can look up statistics and resources. A class project could be a supply drive to donate to shelters. Another group could study gangrene, mental illnesses, and other issues that arise in this story.
• Journals again
o Re-visit the first journal. Talk about what how the book ended.
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Kyerra i actully read this for my hours english class. your very right. we have been talking about it in class and there are many mixed emotioned

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