Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Chasing at the Surface by Sharon Mentyka, 2016

Welcome to the fourth stop on the Chasing at the Surface blog tour! My task today is to review Chasing at the Surface, so let's jump straight into it.


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Sometimes finding your way home takes more than courage. It takes a leap of faith.
After her mother unexpectedly leaves home, twelve-year old Marisa struggles with her feelings of loss and abandonment just as a pod of nineteen orca whales - mothers with their new calves following a run of chum salmon - become trapped in the enclosed inlet near her Northwest home. Marisa's journey to help the whales find their way home brings her to a new understanding of the assaults humans have had on nature, and the complicated meaning of family and home.
228 pages)

I actually wound up loving this book way more than I thought I would.

It's not like I expected to hate Chasing the Surface, of course. If I didn't think it was any good, I wouldn't have agreed to join the blog tour for its release in the first place. But while I was interested in reading Chasing at the Surface (hey, I'll read practically anything you hand me if it has a sea mammal on the cover!), I wasn't sure whether there would be a hippy-ish vibe to the whole "relationship between humans and nature" aspect advertised in the description.

Well, that definitely didn't happen. Chasing at the Surface is a really good book, full of deep storylines about family, relationships, loyalty, and what it means to truly dive beneath the surface of a situation. Many things Marisa (and the reader, for that matter) takes for granted at the beginning of the book wind up being turned on their heads by the end. I was especially surprised by the reason Marisa's mother left, because I hadn't seen that coming at all. In a slightly different vein, I also really enjoyed seeing how Mentyka incorporated Native American culture into the story. I don't know anything about west-coast Native American presence (considering the fact that I've only even been to California for three days in my entire life), but it seems from Chasing at the Surface that they're pretty active in Washington state. It adds a really meaningful dimension when they begin trying to help the whales get out of the inlet–for, as Marisa observes, "The Suquamish people have lived here . . . for thousands of years. . . . If the Tribe is worried enough about the whales to schedule a blessing ceremony, maybe we should all start paying closer attention."

Oh, and speaking of the whales: I really loved reading about them. I know next to nothing about the sea mammals, but they seem truly amazing. Reading about Marisa's close encounters with them makes me pretty jealous, actually. When I went whale-watching, I spent a full half-day huddled up on a boat (in freezing Maine!) and saw nothing more than the edge of a tail flitting out of the water in that entire time. Marisa got to see the orcas swimming, and breaching, and eating, and communicating!

Okay, wait, I just remembered that the whole reason Marisa had the opportunity to get that close in the first place was because the wales were trapped in the inlet. So yeah, that wasn't so great. And it was really despicable, actually, reading about how horribly the tourists took advantage of the whales just so they could satisfy their own curiosity. I can understand wanting to get close to the whales, but not being willing to sacrifice the animals' health in pursuit of that dream.

I sense that if I keep going in this vein I'll wind up on an animal rights rant (how could I not after googling the real-life Penn Cove orca capture Marisa learns about in the book?!), but I'm going to purposefully divert that conversation for another time and focus on talking about Chasing at the Surface itself. I mentioned many of the positives–deep storyline, intriguing themes, a fascinating storyline about trapped orcas–but  I should probably talk briefly about the negatives as well. The only main one I really have has to do with Marisa's mom. I get that she had to go, that she needed to straighten certain things out, but I am definitely not okay with the way she dumped her own husband and daughter to do that. It just about broke Marisa's heart, struggling to cope with her mother's inexplicable abandonment. That wasn't fair. A mother is meant to be there for her children. She doesn't get to just decide she's going to up and leave, that her own secret problems are more important than the emotional wellbeing of her adolescent daughter. There's a certain bond of trust that's been broken between them, and I doubt–no matter what she does next–that it will be restored any.

My issues with Marisa's mom aside, though, I really loved reading Chasing at the Surface. The rest of the characters are all drawn realistically (even the relatively minor ones!), and the plot is very gripping. I was rooting so hard for the orcas to make it out of the inlet, and . . . well, I think you'll have to read it for yourself if you want to know what happens. Suffice it to say, though, that I really enjoyed Chasing at the Surface. I hope you will, too!

About the Author:
Sharon Mentyka is a children's writer and teacher with an MFA from the Whidbey Writers Workshop. Her stories and essays for both children and adults have appeared in numerous literary magazines. "B in the World," an illustrated chapter book for children ages four to seven about a gender nonconforming child, was published in 2014. "Chasing at the Surface," her debut novel for middle grade readers, was inspired by an actual event that occurred in Dyes Inlet, Washington.


Thanks again to Sharon Mentyka for appearing! For other stops on the Chasing Blog Tour, please check

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this novel from the author so I could participate in this blog tour.

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