Reading/Interest Level: Primary, Intermediate, Young Adult
Author: Gill Lewis
Illustrator: Raquel Aparicio
Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers
With her father out of work, her aunt’s patience waning fast, and the local fishermen chomping at the bit to dredge the reef the moment the ban lifts, everything Kara remembers of her mother is on the edge of changing in the worst way possible. Then a baby albino dolphin, wrapped in old fishing net, washes up on the beach and Kara begins to think that there may be a way to save the reef and her mother’s memory. With new kid Felix and the vets, Kara works to save the injured dolphin and reunite it with its mother. When the dredging ban is lifted despite their efforts, Kara must watch in despair as the last thing her mother defended is destroyed. But the winds change when Jake, Kara’s worst bully, makes a rash claim and sails into the worst storm of the season. To save him, she risks the seas herself and their harrowing escape from death softens the hearts of the most entrenched fishermen, including Jake’s own father who goes from the biggest supporter of the dredging to a force in the new movement to repair and protect the reef.
Kara’s attempts to keep life as it was before her mother’s unexplained disappearance capture a young girl struggling with the pain of loss and futile hope with a poignancy that speaks to Lewis’s finesse as a writer. Throughout the novel the reader feels the same swelling cycle of hope and despair that Kara nurtures for her mother’s return as she fights to reunite the baby and mother dolphin. Lewis teases the possibility of a fairy-tale ending to push home the reality that some loss is permanent and our best arguments won’t change everyone’s minds but an ending can still be happy even if it’s not what you’d hoped for. Kara’s coming of age story is more traumatic than most as loss is cast against the cruel practicality of the world but in her struggle she finds her voice, a stronger relationship with her father, and a whole support system that needs her as much as she needs them.