cover image Jonah, the Whale

Jonah, the Whale

Susan Shreve. Arthur A. Levine Books, $14.95 (128pp) ISBN 978-0-590-37133-9

Shreve's (The Goalie) novel about a boy who stretches the truth ""bigger than any truth could ever be"" captures wrenchingly realistic emotions while it follows credibility-stretching plot developments. It's easy to excuse Jonah, ""an oversized 11-year-old boy, called good-looking only by his grandmother,"" for his lapses into a dream world, since his real world is not so glamorous. After his mother's boyfriend Tom (whom Jonah adores) walks out, Jonah's family moves to a new town, where the overweight sixth-grader must take care of his younger brother every day after school and struggles to make friends. When a student turns the teacher's welcoming note on the blackboard into an insult, replacing Jonah's last name with ""the Whale,"" the resilient hero becomes determined to turn the slur into the title of a TV talk show he could host from inside of a set resembling a whale. Middle schoolers, especially those feeling a bit out of step, will cheer when Jonah actually pulls off this nearly impossible feat, lining up Michael Jordan and some child celebrities as interview subjects. While mentions of today's stars may quickly date the novel, the reassuringly happy-ever-after ending promises even Tom's return to Jonah's family. Shreve's strong characters, convincing dialogue and soothing dose of fantasy fulfillment will likely have readers casting votes for the return of Jonah as well. Ages 8-12. (May)