Thursday, August 23, 2018

Book 143: The Highest Tide



"Olympia rain rarely calls for hats, much less umbrellas, but this was a waterfall. And by one forty-five in the morning I saw the auras of the remaining biologists, or maybe it was just backlit mist. What I do know is that I saw a blue light around every one of their heads. And Florence had taught me that people with blue auras are relaxed and ready for anything, which suited these people perfectly."

Dates read: May 1-5, 2017

Rating: 4/10

When I was a kid, I was obsessed with dogs. OBSESSED. Like, I bought a copy of the AKC breed manual and read it like a book, cover to cover, over and over. I also went through a phase of intense obsession with mythology, even writing a letter to The Detroit News when they published a piece that misgendered Osiris. It seems like that's something we lose in adulthood, the ability to become passionately wrapped up in a single topic like that. We have so many other things to think about, it makes sense, but it still feels like kind of a loss, realizing those days of throwing myself wholeheartedly into something new are behind me.

In Jim Lynch's The Highest Tide, 13 year-old Miles O'Malley is a budding marine biologist. Not in the way of like, teenagers who think that means getting to play with dolphins all day for a job. But in the way where he reads and re-reads Rachel Carson's works on oceans, cares about the ecosystem, and regularly sneaks outside to kayak along the Puget Sound beach he lives on to explore what the animals who live in the water are up to. On one such adventure, early in the summer before he begins high school, he discovers a giant squid washed up on the shore. And so begins a season that will change his life forever.

Like so many adolescents, everything is changing for Miles. His parents seem headed toward an end of their long-shaky marriage, he nurses a desperate crush on Angie, the older, bipolar girl next door who used to babysit him, he becomes a figure of devotion for a local cult-type group, he feels queasy about the older man he sells aquarium specimens to, and he faces the increasing deterioration of his best friend, the old lady who lives next door. Miles is confused about virtually all of the above, not quite knowing how to handle any of it. On top of it all, he's extremely self-conscious about his diminutive stature and has very few friends his own age.

This is a fairly slim book (only about 250 pages), and the feeling I was left with at the end was that it tried to take on too much without doing any of it particularly well. There are too many plot threads and none of them are developed properly. Lynch sketches Miles as a sensitive, observant boy, and I wish he'd dropped some of elements he piled on (the shady animal dealer and the cult group in particular don't resonate well) and given the rest some room to breathe. In particular, I felt like Angie got the short shrift...I can see what the appeal of her would be to Miles, but I never got much of a sense of what the appeal of Miles would be to her. She's given an interesting story: daughter of a prominent local judge with not-adequately-treated mental health issues and a wild streak, but she's never realized as an actual character. Lynch's prose is adequate, but doesn't do anything in terms of making up for the plot issues.

Reading books like this, though, makes me reflect on the enduring popularity of the coming-of-age genre. I think the appetite for books in this sphere explains a lot of the appeal of the YA boom: people really like stories about growing up. In part, I think this is because even the culturally-recognized "growing-up" period has gotten extended...just look at how much later my generation is doing things like getting married and buying houses, in large part, that our parents' generation or even Gen X. And even now, firmly in undisputed adult territory, I still feel like I'm not done growing and changing yet. Maturing is a process that feels like it'll never really be done, and stories that reflect the sometimes-painful but always-necessary movement forward are very appealing. I wish The Highest Tide were a better example of the type, but not every book does it for every one. There's good stuff in this one, it's more frustrating than bad, but I still wouldn't recommend it when there are so many in this category that do it better.

Tell me, blog friends...what were your childhood obsessions?

One year ago, I was reading: The Idiot (review to come)

Two years ago, I was reading: The Last One

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