Rorby, G. (2015). How to speak dolphin. New York, NY: Scholastic Press.
Lily is a twelve-year-old who lives with her stepdad, Don, and half-brother, Adam. Her mom died two years ago after being hit by a drunk driver. Since her mom’s death, her life has revolved around Adam who has severe autism. Her doctor stepdad, expects Lily to act as Adam’s surrogate mom, feeding him, bathing him and dealing with him when he has a meltdown. Lily is afraid of making friends and inviting them over because of Adam’s frequent outbursts and meltdowns. Also, because of Adam’s needs, they can’t seem to keep a nanny and Don won’t consider putting Adam in a specialized program. Eventually Suzanne comes into their lives as a caring and understanding nanny for Adam and speaks to Don about the need for Lily to be a kid.
Adam has an affinity for dolphins and squeaks and clicks like a dolphin using echolocation. When Don is called in to consult on Nori, a captive dolphin, following surgery for cancer, he thinks he has a way to help Adam. Zoe, a blind girl that Lily met in the park, disagrees with keeping Nori captive so she can help Adam when there is no proof that dolphin interaction is helpful to disabled children. Lily struggles with doing what’s right for Adam and siding with Zoe about doing what’s right for Nori.
Eventually, Lily convinces Don to force Nori’s release and Suzanne convinces Don to get Adam into a specialized program. By the end of the book, things are looking up for Lily and Adam both.
This story highlights the struggle of being the sibling of a disabled child. Lily loves her brother, but doesn’t want so much responsibility in taking care of him. Her situation clouds her love for Adam and you can see her leaning towards resentment of both him and her stepdad because she isn’t given a choice. At the same time, Lily struggles with the loss of her mom.
Also highlighted in this story is the struggle to understand and do what is right for everyone. Don struggles with admitting that his son needs more help than he and Lily can provide. Lily struggles with doing what is right and helpful for Adam and what is right for Nori the dolphin. With the help of Zoe and Suzanne, Lily and Don make some hard choices that ultimately bring them closer together as a family and do what’s best for all.
Is dolphin-assisted therapy so beneficial to patients that it’s worth keeping a wild dolphin captive?
Twelve-year-old Lily has lived with her emotionally distant oncologist stepfather and a succession of nannies since her mother died in a car accident two years ago. Nannies leave because of the difficulty of caring for Adam, Lily’s severely autistic 4-year-old half brother. The newest, Suzanne, seems promising, but Lily is tired of feeling like a planet orbiting the sun Adam. When she meets blind Zoe, who will attend the same private middle school as Lily in the fall, Lily’s happy to have a friend. However, Zoe’s take on the plight of the captive dolphin, Nori, used in Adam’s therapy opens Lily’s eyes. She knows she must use her influence over her stepfather, who is consulting on Nori’s treatment for cancer (caused by an oil spill), to free the animal. Lily’s got several fine lines to walk, as she works to hold onto her new friend, convince her stepfather of the rightness of releasing Nori, and do what’s best for Adam. In her newest exploration of animal-human relationships, Rorby’s lonely, mature heroine faces tough but realistic situations. Siblings of children on the spectrum will identify with Lily. If the tale flirts with sentimentality and some of the characters are strident in their views, the whole never feels maudlin or didactic.
Dolphin lovers will appreciate this look at our complicated relationship with these marine mammals. (Fiction. 10-13)
(2015, March 1). [Review of How to speak dolphin]. Kirkus Reviews. Retrieved from https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/ginny-rorby/how-to-speak-dolphin/