Quill & Quire praises Amphibian

By Dory Cerny
Quill & Quire
May 1 2009

(Starred review)

Phin Walsh, the nine-year-old narrator of Carla Gunn's debut novel, is the kind of kid who could only be described as 'sensitive.' Hours spent watching documentaries on the Green Channel have left him better informed than most adults about pollution, the plight of animals being robbed of their habitats, and the burden humans have placed on our rapidly decaying Earth. And he’s suffering for it.

Rather than running around outside with friends, exploring the natural world and the creatures he so dearly cherishes, Phin is locked in a state of anxiety. He's a preteen insomniac watching the world around him disintegrate and feeling helpless to stop it.

But there's much more to Amphibian than tubthumping for the environment. Phin is a symbol of our times — a child so overwhelmed by information that his childhood is being stolen from him. He's highly intelligent and imaginative, which leads to frustration. Gunn adeptly uses the guilelessness of childhood to highlight some real issues. Phin takes every claim at face value, often leaving the adults in his life scrambling to provide the alternate view, which sometimes involves explanations that don't make sense to the black-and-white, logical mind of one too young to separate fact from propaganda. The reader actually feels Phin's anger at the inaction and apathy he encounters, and is left desperately wanting something to happen that will allow him to just be a kid.

Gunn alleviates the intensity that threatens to overwhelm the novel with good doses of humour and hope. Amphibian is a polished, engaging book.

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