BONUS BOOK: Stranded by Ben Mikaelsen

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“That’s what I want when I die. I want to be dumped out so the fish can nibble on me – give the ocean something back for all that I took from her.”

Genre: Fiction

Book Jacket Synopsis: “Nothing has been the same for Koby since she lost her foot in an accident four years ago. Between the smothering concern of her parents and the awkward glances from the kids at school, Koby can truly feel at home only when she is on the ocean in her dinghy, Titmouse. But tonight, when twelve-year-old Koby finds herself stranded in the middle of the dark ocean with two dying pilot whales and an aching “phantom” foot, she can do little more than tremble. The lives of the two whales are literally in Koby’s hands and her strength is weakening. There are no rescuers in sight. The ocean is the last place Koby wants to be.”

Review: I first read Stranded when I was in sixth grade and, unbeknownst to me at the time, this book would go on to play a pivotal role in my life. When people ask me how I first became interested in studying whales, my answer is threefold.

  1. I met a girl in sixth grade who wanted to be a marine biologist. She was the first person I’d ever personally known who (at the time) planned on making a career out of studying the ocean and its inhabitants.
  2. I saw a southern right whale photo series by National Geographic photographer, Brian Skerry, and was forever mesmerized by the images.
  3. I read Stranded, a story about a girl my age who rescued and befriended two injured pilot whales.

Perhaps if these three things hadn’t happened in the same year, my career goals would have been different. Ultimately, however, that pivotal year in sixth grade would go on to define every professional step I’ve taken since.

Ironically, despite my personal love for Stranded, it was widely ridiculed by most of my classmates. Any assigned reading in middle school is bound to be mocked to a certain extent, and Koby certainly didn’t win herself any points by frequently complaining about the “fleshy bulb” of her stump. Having reread the book now, it strikes me as a somewhat interesting choice for middle school reading lists. While Koby certainly does evolve as a protagonist throughout the novel, many of the supplementary characters seem incapable of change. I don’t remember disliking Koby’s parents when I first read Stranded, but this time around they were increasingly frustrating to read about. Perhaps Mikaelsen intended for readers to relate to Koby in her struggle for autonomy, but I think the novel could have benefited from better secondary character development. The best scenes were by far the ones where Koby interacted with the pilot whales and with head veterinarian, Tracy Michaels. Despite its flaws, I think the merit of this novel is that it tells an unconventional story.

Rating: Stranded is third unrated book in the history of the Banned Book Brigade. I find it impossible to separate my personal gratitude to this book for the role it had in shaping me as a scientist from the actual merit of the writing.

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