May 29, 2006

The Highest Tide, by Jim Lynch

“The beach talks to Miles O’Malley.”

A throwaway opening line in a news story, these six words cause 13-year-old Miles O’Malley of Skookumchuck Bay, Washington, a world of trouble.

One night while cruising on the mud flats in the bay near his home, Miles comes across a bona fide giant squid – not exactly a species native to Washington State. This discovery, followed by several other remarkable biological occurrences in the bay, garners Miles national publicity and unwanted attention from locals, biologists, and even some cult members who see him as a “kid messiah.” Both a coming-of-age story and a celebration of ocean life, The Highest Tide is an endearing story about an unusual teenager and how he deals with the pressures of family relationships, fleeting celebrity, a crush on the girl next door, and the trials of growing up.

I may be biased. Like our hero, I, too, was obsessed with Rachel Carson when I was young, and how many times have I read and reread John Steinbeck’s The Log of the Sea of Cortez, another book that fuses marine biology with philosophy? But personal bias aside, readers will enjoy Lynch’s vivid, poetic writing style. You can smell the briny mud flats, hear clams squirt and see the jellyfish and nudibranchs waving in the tide. Without overdoing descriptions, he makes his characters real. Kenny Phelps, a neighbor kid, has “a lazy swagger and long brown bangs that hid his right eye whenever he looked down… His favorite pastime was air guitar, but unlike the rest of us, he took it seriously.” Like Steinbeck before him, Lynch manages to create a seamless combination of intriguing characters and storylines, science, and philosophical musings. The Highest Tide is a pleasure to read. And what a pretty, pretty cover! Look at that starfish!

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