Book Review: Whale Song, by Cheryl Kaye Tardif

Whale Song
By Cheryl Kaye Tardif
Kunati, Inc.
ISBN: 978-1-60164-007-9
Copyright 2007
Trade Paperback, 200 pages, $12.95
General Fiction/YA

Whale Song is a beautifully written novel that deals with a controversial subject and combines elements of myth, legend, and family drama.

The story begins when thirteen-year old Sarah Richardson moves with her family to Vancouver Island, leaving behind her old life and best friend. In spite of the fact that not all of her new classmates offer her a warm welcome, Sarah soon makes a good friend, a native girl called Goldie. A white girl where most of the people are Indian, Sarah soon experiences prejudice and racism. Her escape is her loving home, her friendship with Goldie, and her love for the killer whales that inhabit the island waters. From Goldie’s grandmother she learns many legends and Indian myths about these magnificent, intelligent mammals.

Then disaster strikes and all that Sarah holds dear is snatched away, leaving her enveloped in a dark vortex of confusion and loneliness. As her life abruptly changes, the issue of racism is replaced by a much more controversial one. Does the end justify the means? Does love justify breaking the law?

The story is told in the first person by Sarah herself; the reader is drawn into an immediate intimate rapport with the young protagonist. The language, in its simplicity, heightens the strong moral conflicts which carry the plot. In spite of the family drama, no silly sentimentalism mars the prose, and Sarah possesses a strong voice that is both honest and devoid of embellishments. The author has managed to create a sense of serenity and beauty that has to do with the mythical setting and the ‘parallel’ presence of the killer whales and wolves.

Consider this excerpt taken from the prologue and which sets the tone and mood for the rest of the story:

I once feared death.

It is said that death begins with the absence of life. And life begins when death is no longer feared. I have stared death in the face and survived. A survivor who has learned about unfailing love and forgiveness. I realize now that I am but a tiny fragment in an endless ocean of life, just as a killer whale is a speck in her immense underwater domain. (p.9)

A sad yet uplifting novel, Whale Song is about the fear and innocence of a young girl and about coming to terms with the shocking and painful truth one often must face. Above all, it is a novel about forgiveness and forgiving oneself.