blue starfish on a bed of dark green seaweedMiles O’Malley, the protagonist of this book, is thirteen years old. He lives in Olympia, Washington on the shores of Puget Sound. He is completely engrossed in his study of the sea life he finds in the bay outside his front door. Well, not quite completely. He also has a bit of an obsession with Angie Stegner, his one-time baby sitter who has grown up to be a bit of a rebel. And he finds time to be friend and partial caretaker to Florence, an elderly retired psychic with a degenerative disease. Then there’s Phelps, a more typical sex-obsessed teenage boy with a gift for air guitar.

The book has a plot that centers around Miles’s discovery of some remarkable sea life and the consequences of those discoveries. And there’s an earthquake (clearly based on the 2001 Nisqually Earthquake, except that one happened in February and the one in the book is in the summer) and the titular high tide.

But the book is mostly about character. From a distance, the characters are recognizable types, but Lynch has imbued them with enough personality that they don’t feel like types. Miles at times threatens to subside into a miniature version of Cannery Row‘s Doc, but he has a rich enough inner life that it becomes easy to think of him as a real person. But the most interesting character of all is Puget Sound as seen through Miles’s eyes. I kept wanting to write the descriptions off as wild exaggeration, but the very first paragraph of the book is an assurance that this instinct is incorrect. Lynch packs an incredible amount of information about the state and fate of sea life in the Sound into the book without ever making it feel preachy or like a gratuitous info dump. What makes that possible is Miles’s completely believable obsession.

Lovely thought-provoking book.