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Wednesday, July 07, 2021

Middle-Grade Whale Tale Warm and Empowering

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Grief-stricken over the recent death of her marine biologist mother with whom she lived in Japan, 12-year-old Willa Twitchell is trying to adjust to her new normal.  Now residing on an island in Washington State, she shares a loud, chaotic home with her dad, stepmom, three younger step-siblings, and a baby half-sister.  The best thing about being back on Tupkuk Island is her renewed friendship with her long-time best friend Marc Mendoza, but even he is acting strangely.  With her life all upside-down, Willa finds solace in the same place her mother always did: the sea.  

While on a whale-watching trip with her dad, Willa is stunned when a humpback speaks to her.  Somehow, she can hear the creature's thoughts and hold lively conversations with the social animal who is named Meg.  The whale assures Willa that she can call on her new friend anytime for any reason—and Willa does.  She unloads all of her worries and fears
on the sympathetic humpback.  When a blue whale washes up on Tupkuk's shore, she becomes especially scared.  Willa's only a small girl.  How can she save the dying creature?  The townspeople are talking about all kinds of inhumane solutions to get rid of its body, including blowing it up or letting it rot.  Willa knows her mother would do everything in her power to save the whale; Willa intends to do the same.  With Meg's help, she puts a plan into action.  Will it work?  And what will happen when it's time for Meg to move on with her pod?  How will Willa, already wracked with sorrow, say goodbye to her friend?  

Willa and the Whale, the newest middle-grade novel by husband-and-wife writing team Chad Morris and Shelly Brown, is a gentle, hopeful novel about grief, friendship, and healing.  Filled with whale trivia, it teaches the reader about whales while also imparting greater life lessons.  Willa is a sympathetic character, although she sometimes comes off as self-centered and victim-y.  She does show growth during the course of the novel, but I still found her a little irritating.  Likewise, I found the magical realism element of this book a tad annoying.  It just wasn't convincing to me, which made the whole story fall a bit flat for me.  Add to that the fact that there's no real plot to keep the tale focused and you can see why Willa and the Whale was a like-it-didn't-love-it read for me.  I always appreciate a warm, empowering middle-grade novel; this is certainly that, even if it wasn't as satisfying as I wanted it to be.

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of The Elephant's Girl by Celesta Rimington and Song for a Whale by Lynne Kelly)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

To the FTC, with love:  I received an ARC of Willa and the Whale from the generous folks at Shadow Mountain Publishing in exchange for an honest review.  Thank you!


  1. This book sounds so cute. It's good for this age group to find a book where they can find a character who is also struggling.

    1. Agreed. It's always nice to know you're not alone!

  2. I tried, but I didn't love this one. The whole magical realism part of this story just didn't work for me.

  3. This sounds cute but like the execution just didn't quite click. I've read a few books where magical realism was kind of forced in and it just didn't work. I think I'll pass on this one but great review!

  4. This sounds like something I'd read with my kiddos! Thanks for putting it on my radar.

    Lindsi @ Do You Dog-ear? 💬

  5. Reading your description of this story put a smile on my face so it's too bad it doesn't end up being awesome!

  6. I like the sounds of this one. Always like it wen I find a good middle grades book.


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