The Highest Tide by Jim Lynch

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The Highest Tide by Jim Lynch

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Category: Teens
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: A sweet if run of the mill coming of age story lifted by elegant and beautiful writing and a wonderful sense of place, backed up with environmental themes. Lovely stuff.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 288 Date: June 2008
Publisher: Bloomsbury
ISBN: 0747595097

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Miles O'Malley is thirteen. His preoccupations are like those of many another thirteen-year-old boy. He's small for his age and he'd like to grow. He's in love with his ex-baby sitter. His parents aren't getting along and he's afraid they'll separate. But this last, the threat to his home, connects to Miles's other preoccupation. And this one isn't common to most teenage boys. Miles lives on Puget Sound. He's an amateur naturalist and beachcomber and his heroine is Silent Spring's Rachel Carson. Miles spends all day and much of the night on the beach, searching out its beauty and life.

One night, he finds something unusual - a giant squid. The discovery makes headline news and Miles becomes something of a reluctant celebrity, an infant seer, or an infant prodigy, depending on who's doing the interfering. As he makes more discoveries and evokes even more interest, Miles's summer becomes one he'll never forget.

The Highest Tide's dynamic sets the enduring and infinite wonder of the environment against the inevitability of growing up. Miles wants his life to stay the same. He doesn't want his parents to divorce. He doesn't want to lose his home on the beach. He doesn't want ex-babysitter and bi-polar Angie to grow away from him. He worries about Florence, his ageing, Parkinson's-stricken neighbour getting put in a home. He wants everything to be like the beach - steady, unmoving, permanent. Yet the beach is also under threat - from environmental degradation and climate change. So the trick is, as it always is, adaptation.

The coming of age story in The Highest Tide is very sweet and nicely done, although not particularly original. Miles is a geeky lad, suffering the same slings and arrows as geeks everywhere. But he's kind and determined and dogged and loyal and you can't help but like him. There are some scenes where he tries to help his friends Angie and Florence that are immensely touching. And there are some - the phone call to a sex line with some "technique questions" that turns out to cost $3.99 per minute not per call is a great example - which are exceedingly funny.

But where the book really comes alive is in its feel for time and place. The writing is elegant, evocative and precise and in its appreciation for the vast beauty of Earth, sometimes even approaches the descriptions of Miles's hero, Rachel Carson.

... as if the flats were performing for us. Even the snails were quick, the whelks lunging their gleaming white bodies ahead of their spiral shells, moving almost as fast as the hermits. The gravel shook and sprayed with the restless jostling and squirts of manilas, and the ochre sea stars glided along the browse line at speeds they usually only managed underwater. Gulls and herons swooped lower than usual too, their wing thrusts making us all look up and wonder what they saw that we didn't.

You see? One little boy's coming of age, set against forces of nature and time so vast in proportion, it just about blows your mind.

Repackaged here for a teen market, I heartily recommend The Highest Tide to everyone, adult, teenager and child alike. Read it this summer, preferably on holiday at the beach.

My thanks to the good people at Bloomsbury for sending the book.

Once you've read this, you'll have no alternative but to read Rachel Carson for youself, now will you?

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