________________ CM . . . . Volume XXIV Number 31. . . .April 13, 2018


A Possibility of Whales.

Karen Rivers.
Chapel Hill, NC: Algonquin Young Readers (Distributed in Canada by Thomas Allen & Son), 2018.
281 pp., hardcover & ebook, $22.95 (hc.).
ISBN 978-1-61620-723-6 (hc.), ISBN 978-1-61620-831-8 (ebook).

Subject Headings:
Abandoned children-Fiction.
Mothers and daughters-Fiction.

Grades 6-9 / Ages 11-14.

Review by Allison Giggey.

*** /4



The whale was swimming around them in tight circles—or as tight as a twenty-foot-long whale could circle—while they clutched broken pieces of the wooden boat. The swimming was creating a whirlpool, which was making it easier for them to float.

Nat didn’t want to die on her thirteenth birthday.

She thought of all the things that were going to happen next, now that she was thirteen.

She was going to get bigger boobs. She was going to get her period. She was probably going to start having crushes on boys. Maybe she’d even kiss one.

She didn’t really want all that stuff. All of it made her want to cry. But she didn’t want to miss them either. “We can’t die,” said Nat, out loud. “It’s my birthday.” It seemed strange to be talking to Harry normally, their legs kicking to keep them afloat, amid the wreckage of the boat, a paparazzo, and a whale.

“Dude,” he said. “I don’t think that’s how it works.” He looked like he was going to cry. “I haven’t even had my real life yet. I’ve just had the hard part. That’s not fair.”

“Life isn’t really fair,” Nat said.

“Don’t say stuff like that,” he said. “Not now.”

His sunglasses had fallen off. Nat reached for his hand.

“I’m sorry,” she said, and then she leaned as close to him as she could and kissed him right on the lips. His lips felt like whale skin: smooth and bumpy at the same time.

“Hey!” Harry yelped. He spit in the water. “Gross.”

“Sorry, she said,” and then she was crying for real, the snotty kind of crying with tears.

“Forget it,” said Harry. “I’ll pretend you were giving me CPR.”

And then, suddenly, they were both laughing. “I can’t laugh and float at the same time,” gasped Nat.


Nat Gallagher has a lot going on. Growing up with an absent mother and a celebrity father has made her life anything but ordinary. When Nat and her father, the world-famous celebrity XAN GALLAGHER (always in capitals, to illustrate his massive presence), move to a small seaside town in BC, she faces new experiences that both challenge her and help her see her situation with new perspective.

      My first Karen Rivers book—purchased as a teenager—was The Healing Time of Hickeys, and I’m pleased to see that Rivers has not lost touch with what made that book so special: the clear, believable voice of the teenage girl. A Possibility of Whales is definitely a book for a female audience, and that’s not a bad thing. As I read, I tried to see places where a male reader could engage with the story and the characters. There were definitely some parts that anyone would enjoy- a particularly exciting whaling adventure, for example, but overall, it might be a tough sell for a male reader, especially as the topic of puberty becomes more and more important. Rivers knows the members of her target audience and directs her writing to them.

      I am waffling about the portrayal of the transgender character in this book. Nat’s best-friend-not-best-friend Harry is dealing with family members who don’t support his transition and spend much of the book mourning the loss of Harriet. Harry, himself, though, doesn’t really get as much page time as I would have liked. While the main story was Nat’s, not Harry’s, it sometimes felt like Rivers was about to switch to Harry’s voice but decided at the last minute against it. That said, the appearance of a strong, tween-aged transgender character in a YA novel is significant, and the friendship between Nat and Harry is important. This novel is heavy on symbolism. Birds, whales, and water, in particular, seemed to take on multiple meanings. Reading it with an adult’s perspective gave the book added layers that younger readers may miss out on; however, I don’t think that missing any deeper intended meaning will affect the overall enjoyment of the story. I do hope that young readers will find themselves coming back to it later and will find the layers of meaning they missed the first time.

      A Possibility of Whales is a book for a very specific audience. It’s a coming-of-age story for this century, a modern-day twist on Judy Blume, which, I learned after reading the acknowledgments, was the intent from the beginning.


Allison Giggey is an intermediate school librarian from Prince Edward Island. She has been fortunate enough to see right whales in the Atlantic Ocean and gray whales in the Pacific.

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