Once again middle grade stories of wonder and magic are getting me through. This was a wholesome, heart breaking read about a boy who lost his father and the lengths he will go to, to feel close to him again. It was a tale of friendship, grief and self discovery. It had it all.
Synopsis from Goodreads – On the small space station Azura, Maxion Belmont is constantly torn between his two passions—engineering and music. Both are hobbies handed down from his father, which is bittersweet since his death two years ago. While his hydrodriver is great for repairing starship parts, his father’s old string instrument tugs at the latent grief Max hides from his mom and classmates with each chord he strums.
When a foreign starship appears on the horizon, Azura welcomes their first tourist in years. Enter Mr. Hames, starship captain and space-brained traveler. But there’s something weird about the stranger-turned-substitute teacher. He has no idea how to teach and thinks enlisting a group of twelve-year-olds to become his starship “crew” is totally normal. Or maybe it’s the fact he keeps raving about the existence of alien creatures in the vacuum of space: star whales.
As Max and the rest of Mr. Hames’s class/crew uncover the mysteries of the star whales, they discover they aren’t the only ones looking for the elusive creatures—and not every whaler has good intentions. Confronted with questions about his own father’s history with the star whales, Max must decide how far he’ll go to understand not only his father, but also the boy he’s become since his death . . . even at the expense of the star whales themselves.
The Secrets of Star Whales is a beautifully written story that brings our characters to life. Max and India are so well fleshed out and wonderfully written that I couldn’t help but love them and feel for them. Max and India have both lost their dad, but the way in which they deal with this is very different. Max has spent the last two years trying to hide his grief and has become a bitter boy who is quite mean and a little selfish, which is wonderfully appropriate given his age. He was a hard character to read, I could completely understand his sorrow, anger and confusion, but damn he was frustrating. I wanted to yell at him and his mother. Max was so well written that I was often cringing at his bad choices.
Mr Hames is an outsider who has the ability to see everything occurring on Azura with fresh eyes and Max finds his insights and outlook threatening to his comfortable existence. He brings a new level of energy to the kids in his class, he brings excitement and wonder, which these kids, already being prepared for their roles as adults, are already losing. He reminds the kids of the wonder of imagination.
“These whales… They’re amazing. Wonderous. And by normal standards, they shouldn’t exist. Maybe that’s their defense mechanism. They hide from people who lack the hope and wonder you kids carry so easily. They hide from anyone who isn’t imaginative enough to appreciate them.”
One of my favourite parts of this book was the way music was used to tell a story and express feelings that had otherwise been locked up inside of Max. When he couldn’t communicate clearly, he would strum away at his fathers instrument and release the grief and fear he is feeling.
I enjoyed The Secrets of Star Whales, there was a lot of character growth, all of the characters, even the minor side characters and I really appreciated that. I liked that the story flowed well, it never gets bogged down and although the book deals with some heavy themes and at moments my heart was breaking for the characters, I never wanted to stop reading or needed to take a break. It’s a book you can smash through in one sitting. I liked that the story didn’t shy away from the hard parts, the angry, spiteful side of Max and the effect his Dad’s death had on so many people. It was well balanced by the Star Whales.
Over all a well written middle grade story. Definitely worth a look.