Huu-ay-aht Nation and the warmth of the people represented in this novel is passed on to us in a way that feels personal. Cheryl Kaye Tardif, you moved me. I read this straight through without setting it down once.
The story begins with eleven-year-old Sarah learning that her marine-biologist father has been offered an opportunity he can't refuse, nor wants to, to live and work near Bamfield for a couple of years. His artist wife, well-known for her paintings of the plains, will have the opportunity to paint different scenes in their new home. Sarah, naturally, does not want to move. Her best friend is here in Wyoming, however at eleven one has little in the way of choices. But Sarah has no idea how much her new home will change her life. Though well-populated with many full-fledged characters, this is really Sarah's story.
If I take nothing more away with me from reading this book, these three quotes alone were worth the read: "live life fully", "forgiveness will set you free", "know when to let go". Of course I loved many things about this book, and it deals with many subjects that affect lives today.
Very soon after arriving at their new rural home, Sarah meets Goldie, her indian neighbor who is also eleven.* They become the best of friends and very soon both families become as close as non-family can be. Goldie's grandmother Nana regales the girls with many legends, and yet it seems that she is also tapping into something that Sarah is thinking or troubled about. I know, you are wondering about the whales. Sarah had been warned by her parents never to swim past the float because a young boy had tried to swim to the nearby island the year before and drowned. Sarah soon hears from Goldie that she believes her brother is now an Orca (Killer Whale) and swims nearby so she can talk to him. Nana narrates the whale legend to the girls later and Sarah then understands what Goldie was talking about. Sarah's mother Dani and Nana have also become good friends, and incorporating something of the legends in her newer paintings has given Dani even more notice in the art world for the mystic quality they present.
When school starts, the girls find they are in the same classroom and sit next to each other. But trouble brews for Sarah in a case of racism and bullying all through the first year. All is not terror for her though, as she becomes popular among her other classmates and has also caught the eye of a popular young boy, Adam, causing her to giggle and blush everytime he looks at her. Goldie tells her he is part Haida, part white. A field trip on the boat Sarah's father does his research on brings a great windup to the school year. They are all mesmerized by the sounds of both fish and whales after Sarah's father drops the echolocation microphone into the water and turns the volume up so all can hear. Adam in particular looks toward his future as he learns as much as he can from Sarah's father.
The book takes place over approximately 13-14 years and there is so much to tell, but I will not plant spoilers. I have left a large part of the book undiscussed. Let me just say that this is one book I am thrilled to have had the opportunity not only to read, but to feel. It is as though I was dropped into the mind of Sarah and existing within these pages myself, feeling every emotion. Cheryl Kaye Tardif is an inspiration! This book should be read by everyone, perhaps a little too sad in places for young children but definitely for 12+ because some of the lessons learned, almost by absorption, are particularly applicable to that age group. For the rest of us, we are never too old to learn something new, and sometimes you can go home again.
* On a personal note, I mean no disrespect when I refer to our native people as indian. As a Chief once told my husband ...call me an indian, the government made me an indian when they created the legislation in the 1800s, and we call ourselves indian because why should we keep changing names because someone decides to change it?