The Keepin' It Real Book Club praises Amphibian

The Keepin' It Real Book Club
May 10 2010

Phineas Walsh is an unusually bright nine-year-old with all kinds of regular worries — the recent death of his grandfather, being bullied at school, his parents’ puzzling separation — but he has bigger worries too, specifically the mounting consequences of our wanton destruction of the planet ...

The joy of Amphibian is Phin’s unique perspective on the world. After having discovered most adults just lie to him, he’s determined to find the facts for himself. He studies the baffling behaviour of the people in his life as a scientist might, with keen observation and dogged logic, forever comparing human actions to those in the animal kingdom. Sometimes these comparisons are humourous, sometimes heartbreaking, but always entirely apt and eye-opening. Take his analysis of "Sometimes when two mountain gorillas fight, and infant will put himself in the middle and the two gorillas calm down. Maybe I should have jumped between Mom and Dad that first time they fought. But I didn’t. And now it might be too late.”

Of course all of these animal comparisons aren’t just interesting or touching, but over the course of the novel, they all support Phin’s case — that humans, in fact, are just another kind of animal, and not a particularly commendable one. Phin’s voice remains consistent throughout the work — unerringly logical, easily irritated, and often funny. He’s an exasperating child to be sure, and his mother will be the first to admit it, often driven to the heights of frustration by her son’s single-mindedness. In fact, I appreciated that Phin’s mother is realistically rendered, and her reactions to her son seem completely natural, never descending into the caricature that often results in novels written from a child’s perspective.

Gunn’s prose rushes with the relentless energy of its tireless protagonist, injecting the everyday events in Phin’s life with such narrative momentum that I polished off the book in less than two days. I left this charming book with more animal fun facts that you’d glean from a “Green Channel” marathon, but what resonated most was the importance of the tenuous connections that hold us together, for as Phineas so clearly demonstrates, there is nothing more worrisome than thinking that you’re all on your own.

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