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Thursday, April 14, 2016

Ice Whale by Jean Craighead George

I mentioned last week that I was reading this book, and that I thought it was really cool and unique- especially the "whalish" language.  I finished the book and it lived up to it's expectations 100%!

Ice Whale tells the stories of a bowhead whale, Siku, and an Eskimo family.  The story begins in 1848, when a young Eskimo boy, Toozak, witnesses a whale being born.  This is really, really rare.  (In fact, it is only in the last couple of years that anyone has actually witnessed the birth of a right (bowhead) whale.  Toozak's sighting in Ice Whale is fictional.)  Unfortunately, Toozak is young and naive and accidentally leads American whalers right to the whale's pod.  The village shaman tells Toozak that he and his family are now cursed, and must watch over Siku until either a member of the family saves Siku or Siku saves a member of the family.

I thought the curse aspect of the story would involve more mysticism, but alas... it did not.  The book reads much more like "curse" = "banishment."  But there is still the aspect where Siku talks to other whales and to the descendants of Toozak!  That's an awesome detail.  Here's a shot of one page (no spoilers):

Ice Whale Jean Craighead George

Every generation names their first-born "Toozak."  Eventually we get to a generation where the first-born is a girl; even she's named "Emily Toozak" in fulfillment of the shaman's orders.  There was one point in the book where I got just a little turned around with all the Toozaks, but that could just be because I was quite tired while reading it.  It's a middle grades book, so it shouldn't take much brain power, but there's a lot of info in this little gem!

Because the book covers many generations of Toozak's family, we don't get to know any of them very well.  However, their lack of dimensionality doesn't detract from the story- the main story is the whale, and the main "selling point" of the book is the setting and the zoology.  The reader does get to know Siku pretty well.  The anthropomorphism is done very well- I truly felt like I was getting an inside look at whale society.  It didn't read like some little kids' magic animal book; I felt Siku's rhythms and movements and saw the coast of Alaska through his giant eyes.

That brings me to another major winning point with Ice Whale- the setting and zoology.  I get cold easily, and live in the American southeast, but Jean Craighead George's writing made me want to visit Alaska!  The descriptions of the ice and the coast weren't overly wordy but were sweeping.  Also, the way that she works actual factual zoology into the story is excellent.  When I finished the book, I realized I had learned so much about the bowhead whales, and I never knew it was happening during the reading!  (There's also an afterword that clarifies and summarizes a lot of the information from the story.)

Overall, a good book.  Newberry Award winner Jean Craighead George has definitely not lost her touch with prose in this final novel.  The curse aspect combined with the "whalish" makes this a very unique book as well.


Tynga is a 32 years old mom of two, from Montreal, working as a lab technician in an hospital specialized in heart disease. In her free time, she enjoys reading all things Paranormal and photography.

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