February 21, 2014

[Book Review] Touching the Waves (Dolphin Diaries, #2) by Ben M. Baglio


Jody McGrath's dolphin dreams are coming true! Her whole family is sailing around the world researching dolphins--and Jody is recording all their exciting adventures in her Dolphin Diaries.

The McGraths are in Key West, Florida, visiting a very special dolphin center--with "dolphin teachers." Jody loves watching the dolphins at work.

But when one dolphin gets tangled in netting, will Jody be able to free it?


Once again, the back cover blurb of a book damn near misses the point (at least it's not outright false this time--yes, I've seen it happen recently). The most important part of the dolphin center isn't that the "teachers" are dolphins, it's that the center, Cetaceans as Educational and Therapeutic Associates (aka CETA), is a dolphin therapy facility where children with disabilities come to receive a unique incentive--time spent with dolphins--to focus their attention on their education and physical therapy. It's run by a small group of new characters, the Rozakis family. Jerry, Alice, and Lauren Rozakis, plus a few minor assistants (named and unnamed) work with four dolphins: Nick, Nora, Maxi, and Maxi's daughter, Rosie. And contrary to what the blurb above says, the main conflict of the story is not any of these dolphins--or any of the original seven from Into the Blue, who all return for Touching the Waves--getting caught; instead, the plot revolves around one of the dolphin's apparent decision to abandon the facility with the the aforementioned Into the Blue pod.

In my review of Into the Blue, my main complaint was with two of the characters, Dr. Taylor, a stereotypical stuffy scientist, and Brittany, a stereotypical Rich Alpha Bitch. As Jody the majority of the book away from the Dolphin Dreamer, Dr. Taylor only appears for a very brief scene at the beginning; as such, his character doesn't get a chance to improve in Touching the Waves. Though, frankly, it was kind of a relief to have him elsewhere.

Brittany, on the other hand... what to say about Brittany. Touching the Waves sets up a rivalry between Jody and Brittany; both girls want to be friends with Lauren Rozakis, who is not only a fan of dolphins but also in-style enough to win Brittany's approval. Lauren is content to be friends with both of them, but Jody at least is not pleased with that in the least. And that's where I think my biggest problem with Touching the Waves is. Unlike Into the Blue, it's not Brittany who's a one-note brat in the book; it's Jody. In the half of the plot that isn't spent talking about the dolphins and the special needs children, Jody spends an absurd amount of time moaning about how Lauren should like her better. Despite the fact that Brittany and Lauren are repeatedly shown to have many hobbies and interests in common--with the major exception being dolphins--Jody insists that Lauren only likes Brittany because the latter girl is "pretending" to be worthy of Lauren's friendship. To the reader, however, it's very clear that Brittany is incredibly lonely and emotionally fragile; ultimately, she comes across as the victim of Jody's jealousy and nastiness, which is the exact opposite of how a protagonist/Alpha Bitch dynamic is supposed to work.

On the one hand, I can only assume that because there are several acknowledgements of Brittany's loneliness from various characters (including Jody, at one point), Baglio purposefully subverted the stereotype. On the other hand, Jody ends up winning. By the end of the book, she manages to sway Lauren; Lauren finally sees Brittany's frustration boil over, and they have a fairly minor argument that somehow permanently severs Lauren and Brittany's friendship and leads Lauren to agree with Jody that--to put it in less friendly terms than the book uses--Brittany's a bitch who should get out of their way. Lauren's response to the fight is, "I don't suppose there's any chance she might decide she'd rather go live in the wild instead of staying with us?", and apparently, it isn't just a joke; the last words of the rivalry subplot are, "Next morning, Jody and Lauren breathed a sigh of relief when Brittany demanded to be taken back to Dolphin Dreamer."

Um... alright, then. Good job with using your passive-aggressive bullshit to ruin Brittany's only friendship, Jody. Real great protagonist behavior, there.

Seriously, I shouldn't find the antagonist more sympathetic than the protagonist. I really, really shouldn't.

Luckily, the rivalry/friendship subplot didn't have a huge presence in the story, and the main plot--that of the missing dolphin--and the second subplot--that of Hal Davis, an autistic patient with rich parents--were much more interesting and satisfying.

I have no idea where the series will go next (I'm sure I've read later books, but I honestly don't remember much about them), so I'm looking forward to seeing where Baglio takes the Dolphin Dreamer next. Hopefully, the dynamic between Brittany and Jody will get some satisfying resolution, because it certainly went to a weird place in this one.