Whale Talk Summary

Chris Crutcher

Whale Talk

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Whale Talk Summary

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides that feature detailed chapter summaries and analysis of major themes, characters, quotes, and essay topics.  This one-page guide includes a plot summary and brief analysis of Whale Talk by Chris Crutcher.

Chris Crutcher’s 2001 young adult novel,Whale Talk, is a first-person narrative told through the perspective of T.J. Jones.T.J. is an adopted multi-racial teenager (Asian, African, European, American), who lives in the fictional Pacific Northwest town of Cutter, Washington, not far from Spokane.The story focuses on T.J.’s attempt to establish a student swim team, comprising unlikely members, in spite of, or perhaps to spite, the elitist attitude of his school’s athletic department.T.J. is both humorous and sarcastic as the narrator of a novel that covers a wide range of topics, which in addition to the aforementioned elements of multiculturalism and adoption, include bullying, violence, child abuse, and post-traumatic stress disorder.Not surprisingly, Crutcher’s use of realistically harsh language and subject matter, a common characteristic of his work, is on display in Whale Talk.

T.J.’s adoptive family is white and lives in a predominantly white town.Abby, his mother, is a lawyer specializing in child abuse cases and his father, John Paul, is a community volunteer.John Paul carries with him the guilt from an incident in his youth when after a one night stand with a woman, he accidently killed her child.T.J. attends Cutter High School and has never been willing to participate in any sports in spite of his strong physical appearance.His refusal stems from the anger issues that have plagued him from childhood; abstaining from sports serves as a type of anger management.Athletics are a source of pride for the school, and many faculty members are angered by his refusal to help increase the school’s success in that area.

Faculty members frequently favor the athletes, including Mike Barbour, a bully who often has as his target Chris Coughlin, T.J.’s intellectually disabled fellow student who, in addition to his disability, has to deal with the death in an accident of his older brother who was widely loved.John Simet, an English teacher with whom T.J. has a good relationship, decides to start a swim team in an attempt to avoid more demanding coaching obligations.He asks T.J. to amass swimmers and become captain of the team, in spite of the fact that the school does not have a pool.T.J. accepts when he realizes it will provide him an opportunity to rebel against the pretentious attitudes that are pervasive among the athletes and their supporters who heap praise on bullies like Mike Barbour.T.J. proceeds to assemble, with intent, a collection of unlikely members including Chris Coughlin; Dan Hole, known for his seemingly endless and often inaccessible use of vocabulary words; Tay-Roy Kibble, a ladies’ man; Andy Mott, who is missing one leg; Jackie Craig, who does not speak; and Simon DeLong, who, while a very caring boy, is grossly overweight, making swimming especially difficult for him. It is T.J.’s plan to have this group of misfits all meet the school’s revered letterman requirements, thus embarrassing the rest of the athletic program.

At the onset, Mr. Simet sets as a goal each team member outpacing his previous score each time out.They train at a local gym’s pool,where T.J. enlists the help of the homeless man who frequents the gym.The man, Oliver Van Zandt, becomes the teams’“interim coach Oliver,” which becomes the nickname Icko. In a subplot, Mike Barbour’s friend Rich Marshall is introduced.Rich is an alumnus of the school’s athletic program and an alcoholic racist.Upon adopting the illegitimate half-black child of his wife, Alicia, he changed the girl’s name to Heidi, thinking it the whitest name he knew of.T.J., by coincidence, meets Heidi via a connection with Georgia, Heidi’s therapist, who was also T.J.’s when he was younger.T.J. learns that Heidi has been abused by Rich; Alicia and Heidi obtain a restraining order.T.J.’s family invites them to dinner, which leads to Rich lurking outside in a drunken state and making threats.

As the season progresses, the team members begin to share details of their personal lives.They all, with the exception of T.J., manage to fulfill the requirements of lettermen. Unwilling to accept what the team has accomplished, the rest of the athletics program, including Mike Barbour and a coach named Benson, decide to challenge Mr. Simet over the requirements he set for his squad.T.J. strikes a deal with Barbour, saying that if Barbour can beat Chris in a swimming competition, Coach Benson will have grounds on which to challenge the teams’ winning its letters.Chris wins the competition, after which the team’s celebration is bittersweet as they realize they will not be together the next year.T.J. decides to form a basketball team, and the next year they beat the team of Rich Marshall.While at the game, Rich sees Heidi rooting for the team that beat his, and he pulls out a gun.John Paul, in attempt to protect the girl, is shot.Although this leads to John Paul’s death, he tells T.J. the name of the woman whose child he accidently killed.Rich is sent to prison, and Barbour offers an apology to T.J.When later T.J. finds the woman his father told him about, he learns that there was a child born of the one-time encounter.T.J. meets this newly discovered half-brother, Kyle Couples, with whom he immediately feels a bond.