Tuesday, May 28, 2024

A Galaxy of Whales

Fawcett, Heather. A Galaxy of Whales.
May 28, 2024 by Rocky Pond Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Fern lives in Washington state, where her mother continues to run the whale watching business that her Granny and Gramps started forty years ago. Her older brother, Hamish, helps too, but is more invested in the book series Space Dragons than in real life. The family business, Worthwhale Tours, has always politely feuded with a rival business, Whale of Fortune, run by the neighboring Roy family. Fern has a rather contentious relationship with Jasper Roy, although they are close enough to use the Roy's family duck, Herbert, to exchange messages. Herbert is a rescue duck that Jasper's sister, Emma, brought home. Fern is worried that the business is not doing well, so after Jasper tells her about the Youth Wildlife Photography contest sponsored by one of the local papers, she decides to enter with her best friend Ivy. She and Ivy have been friends for a long time, and have bonded over several similarities, such as both having attic rooms, but also over the fact that Fern's father, who was a photographer, passed away three years ago, and Ivy's mother passed away the year before that. Now, however, Ivy seems to be more friendly with Rachel, who is not always kind to Fern. Since Ivy isn't that interested in the contest, Fern reluctantly agreed to partner with Jasper, who wants to use the $5,000 contest money to buy a telescope for Emma, who was diagnosed with MS and has had to drop out of college when the disease flared. The two are focusing on the whales that their family tours watch, and hope to get good pictures, especially when one of the whales is expecting. After Hamish's birthday party, where Fern hears Ivy tell Rachel that they USED to be friends, Fern takes her camera out to one of the islands, thinking she will destroy it. She sees a bear, falls, and is concussed, but is fortunately saved by Brian, whom the Roys have hired to help them keep up with the location of the whales pods. Will Fern be able to come to terms with her changing relationships with Ivy and Jasper, and will the family business survive?
Strengths: The Pacific Northwest setting was interesting, and I enjoyed reading about the environmental impact of whale watching, as well as the aspects of tourism that help with conservation. Fern's extended family provided a lot of warm interactions, and I particularly loved Granny and Gramps and would have loved to hear more about how they started their business. Children wanting to help out with a family business is an emerging trend in middle grade literature, and quite a timely one, as many small business are facing economic challenges. Friendship drama is a staple of the middle grade experience, so Fern's dealings with both Ivy and Jasper will add to the appeal of this title.
Weaknesses: This was a little slower paced than some middle grade. The "ghost possum", Rufus, who lives in the walls of the house and Fern "sees" out and about was a bit confusing. I don't think his inclusion makes this a fantasy title; I think he's more along the lines of an imaginary friend. (Which is how Hamish describes him.)
What I really think: This is a good choice for readers who want more information on whales and enjoyed titles like Morris and Brown's Willa and the Whale, Kelly's Song for a Whale, Wilson's The Longest Whale Song, or Parry's Written in Stone.

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