This book review is part of series of reviews written by students at St. Margaret’s Episcopal School for their 7th grade English classes.
Outcast, loner, misfit… these high school boys have to come together to make a winning swim team. Whale Talk was an excellent book written by Chris Crutcher who won the annual Edwards Award from the American Library Association in 1997 recognizing his significant and lasting contribution to young adult literature.
I’ve never been in the situation T.J. Jones was in, but the author Chris Crutcher made it feel so familiar. I almost felt like I was there when a teenage boy from Cutter High School decided to take a risk and help a team of misfits overcome their differences to find their place in a school that has no place for them. The Cutter All Night Mermen swim team struggle to form their own identity and believe in themselves.
T.J. Jones is a powerful character that is the base of the story. He is a high school boy, who has to start a swim team to please his favorite teacher. He perserviers through tough times and helps everyone commit to become better swimmers. He is the glue that makes this story come alive with compassion and love for helping others.
Chris Coughlin is the reason I love this book; it is amazing how one person who starts out shy as a blade of grass in a field can mold into someone so amazing. “He laughs again, as if he’s never considered the idea of Chris Coughlin the stud” (83). There is a lot more going on than just a swim team overcoming their differences and Chris Coughlin and T.J. Jones tell you all about it.
A young girl named Heidi comes into the story about half way through and is another reason the book Whale Talk is so intriguing. She goes through so much for only being about 9 years old, but she has to adjust to difficult circumstances and forget her past to move on through her future.
The Cutter High School Mermen go through a lot of experiences, losses, and hardships through the course of the book. T.J. Jones helps them all put aside their differences such as having one leg or being overweight and to come together as a swim team but also a family. They learn things about others that they didn’t know but also themselves.
Whale Talk is filled with many interesting characters such as T.J., Chris, and Heidi, which makes this story seem so much more realistic and fascinating. Here’s how Mr. Simet the coach of the mermen described T.J. Jones: “Mr. Simet says I look like Tiger Woods on steroids” (17).
T.J., Heidi and Chris are all great characters but I would say the most important character that shapes the idea of this story is T.J. Jones’ father, Mr. Jones. He might not be the main character, but definitely the most important. This brave souled hero risked his life for a young girl who has to go through many hard times in her life. Mr. Jones is absolutely a critical character in this book. Self-sacrifice plays a big role in this book. But Mr. Jones doesn’t simply try to teach heroism and self-sacrifice; it is just a trait that he has that slowly bleeds onto others while being around him.
On the other hand, T.J. teaches teamwork to the fellow swimmers and people he is around. The whole swim team including him learn many things about themselves and how Teamwork is a big aspect of their lives. Through relays and the long bus rides back to school the group of misfits have slowly come together. Water polo plays a big role in my life and I know that you always have to work together as a team to succeed.
Mr. Jones, the silent hero of the book, teaches T.J. that violence isn’t always the answer and that you should stand up for what is correct and friendship is key. He takes in a lonely family helplessly trying to get away from a cruel husband and father and helps them find their way and get back on their feet.
If you want to know what goes on with the Cutter High School Mermen and how they come together and everything that happens on the way you should read Whale Talk and enjoy the story of a group of misfits brought together by T.J. Jones.
-Erin T., 7th grade