London, Corgi, 2013, 260p
Michael dreams of seeing a whale. He has heard stories of times gone by when whales roamed freely around his little island, but now they have all been scared away by hunters. Every day, he works hard to save up for a boat of his own, in the hope he can one day take tours out into the waters and find some of the beautiful mammals. So when the opportunity to have his very own boat comes sooner than expected, he jumps at the chance, but remains suspicious that this might be too good to be true.
Whale Boy reminded me of Saving Finnegan, which uses the issue of a washed up whale as a method of helping a young protagonist come to terms with loss. Here, Nicola Davies creates a scenario to highlight the evils of whale hunting, and challenging the reader to think about the impact of pollution and climate change on habitats and wildlife.
The novel is beautifully written, full of poetic language and vivid descriptions of vast oceans and wonderful creatures. Michael's dream is uplifting and full of hope. But the story takes an unexpected turn as events unfold, swiftly turning into an action-packed thrill in which the lives of humans and animals are at stake.
I couldn't quite work out the target audience for this book. It feels like it should sit somewhere between junior fiction and books for teenagers, but I imagine it would only really be selected by children who already have an interest in environmental issues and animal rights. And yet, as an adult reader, I loved the imagery and the message - perhaps it would work as a book for a family to share.