Tuesday, May 22, 2018

The Music of Dolphins by Karen Hesse

Books about feral children make for an interesting look at the nature of being human and language development. What defines a person when he or she isn't socialized and raised by animals? "Peter Pan" by JM Barrie, remains in an adolescent state. "Julie of the Wolves" by Jean Craighead George, involves the girl Julie who lives with wolves and learns to communicate with them. "Jungle Book" by Rudyard Kipling is still on my endless book list. Karen Hesse's story is about Mila, a feral child discovered by humans as a teen, who has lived with dolphins since she was four years old and been imprinted by their behavior. When the Coast Guard finds her as a teen, she is taken to a research facility and studied with another girl, Shay, who is a feral child but from being isolated from other humans by her mother. Mila finds assimilating with humans difficult socially. The audiobook's narration was average.

The structure of the story begins with Mila communicating in simple language reflecting the second language learner. Her syntax lacks the use of pronouns and prepositions as she tells her experience of living in a government research facility. She is happy at first but misses her dolphin family. As she learns the language her thoughts and speech gain more fluency and figurative language. Ethical questions are raised as Mila feels trapped by the government that requires doctors to keep her locked in her room for her "own safety".

The complexity of ideas progresses as Mila meets Shay, another feral child at the facility, who was locked up in a room with no contact with the outside world. Shay rarely speaks but Mila understands that bonding occurs through touch. She touches Shay and connects with her at first making her laugh when Mila speaks dolphin. Later Shay withdraws into herself and no longer connects with Mila foreshadowing Mila's withdrawal from humans as well. Mila has imprinted with dolphins and trying to connect with humans becomes impossible when she realizes she is not free to do as she wishes. The adults lock her in a room at night and she is feared because she is different. The researchers try to social the two to human behaviors but they cannot adapt. Mila ends up feeling just as trapped and isolated as Shay.

Doors are a symbol throughout representing freedom from societal rules and behavior. Some doors are open and others shut. Toward the end, Mila can only see them shut. Social behavior for Mila reflects dolphin behavior of freely accepting people with doors being open. Mila is marginalized and feared because of her differences. The janitor is afraid of her and she is rejected by Shay who shuts herself off from all humans. The government locks Mila's door and is impersonal to her as a human with rights. The dolphins have socialized Mila to the idea that she can swim anywhere in the ocean and creatures are acceptable unless they are predators. Human boundaries and prejudice she cannot deal with because she knows there is an alternative for her. She connects with her doctor's son, Justin, but cannot accept him completely because he isn't a dolphin. She doesn't identify with humans and cannot adapt to human behavior like Shay.

Music shows a different type of communication for Mila. She listens to it and learns to play an instrument with deep passion. The music relieves Mila's stress and gives emotional satisfaction as it is a reminder of her dolphin family and how sea creatures communicate with sounds. Again, music reflects how much Mila was imprinted regarding social behaviors by dolphins and not humans. She cannot assimilate with the family she lives with and becomes a tragic character in the end.

5 Smileys

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