It’s taken awhile for me to write this review because I simply didn’t know what I thought about it. I was a mix of feelings. This was a reread for me because of book club and I was excited at first. I remember loving the book the first time I read it in high school. So imagine my surprise at not having those same feelings the second time around. Thankfully my book club discussion saved the day because it turned out that I wasn’t the only one who had reread this book and felt the same way.
It’s not as if the book is bad. There are some great scenes in this book and some strong themes that help tie everything together. Believe me, there is a lot going on in this book and you can probably spend all day talking about it.
Dolores Price is your typical 13-year-old wise-mouthed, angry teenager who is dealing with her parents recent divorce. If that isn’t enough, Dolores than experiences a traumatic event that threatens to undo her. In an effort to “forget” the trauma, Dolores holes up in her house, eating snacks and whatever food her mother passes off to her to make her feel better. When she graduates high school, she is over 200 pounds and no stronger. Seeing where her life is headed, she is determined to turn her life around.
Basically, this book is a coming of age story but its ultimately about life and the unexpected crap that life throws at you. It’s about perseverance when life gets so shitty that you just want to quit. In some ways, you can’t help but feel bad for Dolores because it seems that no matter what she does, she gets dealt a bad hand. Nothing ever seems to go right for her even when she tries her hardest to change. But it’s about perseverance and find the individual strength to find who you are and come into your own. For Dolores that takes a long time.
I loved the relationship between Dolores and her neighbor Roberta as well as her relationship with her guidance counselor Mr. Pucci. They are the two people who are the closest thing to being a parental guide to Dolores and help her in ways that she can’t expect.
Except for Mr. Pucci, Dolores’ relationship with men is doomed from the start. Dolores looked up to her father as any daughter would and then he divorces her mother, leaving her behind. Then there is the upstairs neighbor who becomes Dolores’ worst nightmare and escalates her undoing. Her relationship with her therapist pushes the boundaries between professional and inappropriate, followed by her marriage to Dante, which is doomed from the start.
I loved how Wally Lamb uses the symbol of the whale to tie the book together. When we first see the whales, they are dying along a beach and no one knows why. Dolores goes down to the beach to see the latest casualty and before you know it she is floating beside it, staring into its cloudy eye. It’s a bit weird at first but the books ends with Dolores on a whale watching boat, seeing a whale breach for the first time and she is overcome with excitement. The whale symbolizes Dolores’s mental health. At first, Dolores is dying. She is at her lowest — her depression has hit rock bottom, her weight is at its highest. She just wants to die. At the end, the whale symbolizes how Dolores has finally gotten her head above water and she is able to look forward to the future with optimism and confidence.
Overall, I enjoyed the reread of this book, even if it didn’t have the same effect on me as the first time. I think part of it has to do with my age. In high school, I could relate to Dolores. I had the same naivete about things. Now as an adult, I am more critical. Book club enjoyed the read, even the one man who is super critical of all the books we read. It is definitely worth it if you haven’t read it before.