Uncategorized: contemporary ya dolphin girl J.A. Beard shel delisle
by J.A. Beard
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Ah, the pain of adolescence. Childhood and adulthood have their own pains, but have a more fundamental clarity of purpose. The transition from one to the other, especially in a society that often seems to praise individuality but expects conformity. This transition and the general yearning for personal freedom are explored in Shel Delisle’s contemporary young adult novel, Dolphin Girl. The book has a crisp style and a solid voice, something always vital in any YA work.
The story follows Jane, a South Florida teen, as she begins to fully push against some of the weight of parental and peer expectations on her. While she has the somewhat expected teenage angst, Jane isn’t drowning in feeling of inadequacy, and is lacking in the kind of smug condescension that sometimes YA stories attempt to pass off as unusual awareness and/or enlightenment. She’s frustrated with the restrictions she perceives around her, particularly as she parses her social life by likening it to the life of a dolphin. It’s a good metaphor. The dolphins may have a certain freedom, but they find it difficult to exist without their fellow pod mates.
Jane is a well-developed and her motivations well-actualized, something critically important to making her plot struggle against the various factors limiting her self-perceived freedom. The core enjoyment of the story comes from watching her growth throughout the book.
There are a number of secondary characters, and while they don’t receive as nearly as good development as Jane, they still are distinctive and realistic characters. The story eschews easy over-hyped antagonistic villainy. Yes, there are struggles against parents and social foes, but this story is more about the internal struggle to understand one’s place in the world than it is some story of outcast being targeted by vicious Queen Bees. Given that social situations come and go, this sort of thematic treatment of the transition in adulthood perhaps resonates a bit more than a more straight-forward external conflict narrative. Also the focus allows a more even and realistic treatment of the secondary character, particularly the adults. There’s a subtlety to the conflict that universalizes the story well.
As much of the attention in the YA fiction landscape is dominated by intense paranormal romance works or books focused around particularly dramatic social issues, a book like this, with an likable character that is easy to relate to and a nice, flowing plot has a certain freshness to it.