Warning: some spoilers down at the end.
Sophie is a high school student with aspirations of college and a talent for writing poetry. Sophie is pregnant, but will not reveal the name of the father. How to balance the pressures of society to involve the father of her child, not to mention her own incipient child’s needs, with the desire to better herself?
To compound the problem, everyone assumes that the father is her best friend, Joshua, who happens to be African-American…and that she’s keeping mum because he’s now dating someone else. (He isn’t the father. That’s not why she’s not identifying the father of her child.) To further compound that problem, she is herself the daughter of a single mother who will not reveal the identity of her father, despite Sophie’s doctor wanting to know about her paternal genetic heritage. Her mother disapproves of her friendship with Joshua, and Sophie believes this is because of Joshua’s race. (It isn’t because of Joshua’s race.)
Mostly, she just wants to finish high school without too many more run-ins with the Mean Girls, save enough for college, find out more about her own father,figure out how to balance her child and her figurative dreams of college, figure out why she keeps having literal dreams of swimming with whales, and who has been sending her anonymous hate letters. Oh, and properly mourn Nestor, a classmate who died the previous year while playing in a basketball game.
Sophie has been having peculiar dreams of whales–that she is a whale, itself about to give birth with the support of its pod. Her obstetrician claims that they’re only a result of the sonogram, as whales communicate through sound. After delving further into this with the help of a boy she babysits, she discovers that more specifically she’s dreaming of the Tequesta Indians, a lesser-known (and presumed gone) tribe of Indians in the Biscayne Bay area which were involved with whales.
The letters are formed from letters cut out from teen magazines and stuck in place with clear nail polish, shoved in through the vents in her locker at school, so it’s not too far a leap to guess that they’re from a classmate.
The school year and her pregnancy both advance at about the expected rate, and things come to a head in more ways than one at the school prom. Joshua and Acacia have loaned her a prom dress that fits over her pregnancy, included her in their trip by rented limo to the high school. It is now, however, that not only does she realize she’s in labor, but the girlfriend of the dead basketball player confronts her in the girl’s bathroom about how Sophie stole Nestor from Bianca.
Sophie goes into a sort of fugue state, arousing only after reaching the hospital in a state of advanced active labor. It is only after she gives birth that she finds out that she is biracial…and that Nestor (the father of her baby) is not Cuban but a member of the long-lost Tequesta tribe and a member of the Ballena tribe. Yep, she’s related to whales. Oh, and blackbirds, through Nestor’s father: Bianca was apparently whisked away to the local mental institution, raving about how Sophie called down a flock of blackbirds to attack her.
Overall, it’s a book based in magical realism rather than in after-school PSAs about the problems of unmarried teen motherhood. I might have liked it better had Sweeney left out the mysticism; just the issues of teen motherhood would have been enough. Madeleine L’Engle’s the only one who managed to combine the two at all plausibly and even then her later books left me scratching my head perplexedly at times. Teens might like it better though. I’d love to find out.