Review Blog

Aug 28 2008

The highest tide by Jim Lynch

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Bloomsbury, 2008 ISBN 9780747595090
(Ages 13+) When Miles finds a giant squid on the coast near where he lives in Puget Sound, Washington State, he is on one of his night time wanders in his kayak, alone with the sea and its creatures that he loves, away from the strife at home. When a few nights later he finds a ragfish, things move to overwhelm him. His close friend, Professor Kramer recognizes the finds as amazing, but the newspapers dub Miles almost a freak in their hunt for a front page newsbyte.

His friend and neighbour, Florence, lives alone and drawing towards the end of her life, is most concerned about going to a nursing home as she predicts what will happen in the bay. His school friend, Phelps is the same age but obsessed with sex, and on their walks out on the flats, talks non stop to Miles about his fantasies. But Miles is constrained by his love for Angie, his former babysitter, and next door neighbour, and he cannot help but feel protective towards her as she makes poor decisions about her life.

All of the characters and events swarm towards the defining tide, the highest tide for fifty years in the sound, which brings out journalists, scientists, cult members and those wanting a miracle, all wading together in the water, as Florence dies, Miles' mother promises to return, and the community takes stock of the water and its life in front of them.  Miles' summer is a defining one, he grows up, sees his friends and family with clear eyes and through his love of the work of Rachel Carson, sees his place in the scheme of things, 'for all at last return to the sea ... the beginning and the end'.

This is a book which is rarely found in adolescent literature. Through the story of Miles, the reader is given an immense amount of detail about the life, condition and future of the sea, through the happenings at Puget Sound. Without being overwhelmed with information we are initiated into the wonders of the bay, given scientific data, see for ourselves where the bay and so the world is heading. The overlay of Rachel Carson's work gives the novel a sub text that is hard to ignore, and all the while we are part of a young boy's early adolescence, with its insecurities and longings, and need for family.

I loved this book, and was amazed to read that it is Jim Lynch's first novel. The story will appeal to reflective readers in early to middle secondary school, particularly those absorbed by environmental issues, and that should be everyone.
Fran Knight

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