The Title: The Highest Tide
The Author: Jim Lynch
Description (from Publishers Weekly): The fertile strangeness of marine tidal life becomes a subtly executed metaphor for the bewilderments of adolescence in this tender and authentic coming-of-age novel, Lynch's first. As a precocious, undersized 13-year-old living on the shore of Puget Sound, in Washington State, Miles O'Malley has developed a consuming passion for the abundant life of the tidal flats. His simple pleasure in observing is tested and complicated over the course of a remarkable summer, when he finds a giant squid, a discovery that brings him the unwelcome attention of scientists, TV reporters and a local cult. Meanwhile, Miles's remote parents are considering a divorce; his best friend, Florence, an elderly retired psychic, is dying of a degenerative disease; his sex-obsessed buddy, Phelps, mocks his science-geek knowledge; and his desperate crush on Angie Stegner, the troubled girl next door, both inspires and humiliates him. Events build toward the date of a record high tide, and Miles slowly sorts out his place in the adult world.
The Skinny: A coming of age tale about a boy obsessed with marine life and what happens when he discovers a giant squid that sets off a chain of events resulting in massive exposure on his insular world and the peculiar relationships that define him.
The Fat: The Highest Tide is one of the best novels I’ve had the pleasure to read in recent years. Jim Lynch possesses a poetic beauty in his prose, but doesn’t make it showy or flagrant. It flows naturally, completely enveloping the reader in the mind of the precocious Miles, a 13 year old boy who is more at home in the tidal flats around his home than in social circles or relationships. His best friend happens to be a woman so elderly that he has to aid her in using the restroom. The only friend his age doesn’t understand him, and his crush on a troubled older girl goes unnoticed. To make it all come to a head, he discovers a giant squid on the beach.
This attracts scientists, news reporters and even some cultists as Miles almost miraculously discovers species after species of new or extremely rare marine life on the shoreline that he knows like the back of his hand. His obscure world is thrust into the national spotlight, exposing the troubles that lurked in the cracks until then, including his parent’s impending divorce.
What makes this novel stand out is how Jim Lynch seems to effortlessly bring the characters alive, and even more so his descriptions of the marine life that fascinates Miles so much. Many writers might make such sound boring and technical, but Lynch takes the reader right to the shore and brings it all to life so that we too can be awed and humbled by the beauty and fragility of nature. It is rare to find a novel that speaks poetry without pretentiousness, but Lynch pulls it off well. The result is a rare treat of a story that should delight readers familiar with its themes as well as those like myself who are completely ignorant of life by the water.
The Bottom Line: Read this book. I loved it, and recommend it to anyone who loves a story that takes you away.