Rorby, Ginny. How to Speak Dolphin
May 26th 2015 by Scholastic Press
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline
Lily is being raised by her stepfather, Don, after the death of her father in the war and her mother two years previously in a car accident. Her brother, four-year-old Adam, is severely autistic and obsessed with dolphins. There is a nanny, Suzanne, who helps with Adam, but Lily still has to do a lot, and wishes that Adam could go to a school where he could get more training. Don considers one, but is more interested in dolphin therapy after he treats a dolphin for cancer, and Adam seems to bond with Nori, the young dolphin who ends up at the Sea World-like attraction. It's hard for Lily to make friends, but she meets Zoe in the local park when she is playing hooky from school. Lily is homeschooled because she is blind and her parents are overprotective, but the two girls get along well and start to bond over the shared opinion that Nori should be sent back to the wild. They do a lot of research on dolphins, as well as on treatment programs for children on the autism spectrum, and eventually manage to convince Don that they are right.
Strengths: This is a well balanced book, giving the ups and downs of different treatment programs for autism spectrum disorders as well as the dolphin issues. No characters are portrayed as completely black and white, and they are all open to different ideas. Lily and Zoe both treat Zoe's blindness very matter-of-factly without being either overly condescending or noble. The writing is solid, and the story moves along well.
Weaknesses: Can there be any more sadness in one single book? Lily's difficulties with her brother would have been enough basis for a book without the death of BOTH of her parents or the addition of Zoe's blindness. This doesn't get maudlin or hand-wringing, but it's still a lot of issues for one book.
What I really think: I realize my dislike of this is entirely personal. I am debating buying it, because there is a weirdly large interest in marine biology among my students (in Ohio? Don't get it.), and we do have an autism unit here at my school. If I can come up with a list of students I think will read it, I will put it on my list for fall. (I do that with all my books-- if I can't assign students to books in my mind, will anyone read them?)