Shelf Monkey goes bananas for Amphibian

By Corey Redekop
Shelf Monkey blog
December 23 2009

Ah, the glory of today's youth. So young. So full of promise. So innocent. So very much in the pathway of crushing, humiliating, eternal soul-destroying reality.

No wonder that children, in much of literature, are often presented as being somehow wiser than their elders, their lack of world experience uncluttering their precious vision, and thus their every statement uttered from their precocious mouths a jewel of clarity in a universe of uncertainty.

What a load. I hate books like that. Children are not wise. They are not avatars for all that is good and wholesome. They are dirty. They are unformed personalities. They are petty, petulant, simpering, spiteful, and sometimes remorseless eating, sleeping, and pooping machines.

My point? I don't have a point, I'm just ranting.

No, there is a point. Despite the inherent unlikability of children, sometimes (just sometimes, mind you) they are right. Confused, yes, but right. And when an author mixes a child's sense of right and wrong with the onrush of maturity, the results can be spectacular (case in point, The Catcher in the Rye, and damn you naysayers, it's still a damned fine novel).

Phineas Walsh is right. He's nine years old, and he's kind of annoying at times, and he's self-righteous, but he is right. He's also a terrific narrator for a novel.

Amphibian, Carla Gunn's debut novel, follows Phin's process from being a wide-eyed processer of information to a more worldly participant in the events that consume his life. In this case, the widespread extinction of animal life from the planet. The New Brunswick author has captured a pivotal point in every child's development, that time when it becomes readily apparent that the world does not adhere to one's innate sense of fair play ...

... Amphibian is a great debut novel, and Gunn has talent to burn. Her style is deceptively simple, clean but smart, and her way with characters is akin to the healthy humanity Miriam Toews invests in her characters. Amphibian marks a novelist to watch ...

(Read the whole review at

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