The protagonists in A Possibility of Whales are 12-year-old Natalia Rose Baleine Gallagher and her single father, Xan Gallagher, a famous movie star. They’ve moved from San Francisco to a lush B.C. village called French Beach, in the hopes of making some changes. Nat desperately needs a friend and her father wants to get away from paparazzi and the trappings of fame. While Nat spends a lot of time speculating about her absentee mother and navigating life with an unconventional, larger-than-life parent, her transition to the new town isn’t all that bad.
Conflict arises in the form of Nat’s new friendship with a transgender boy named Harry, which brings to the surface some uncomfortable truths about Nat’s biological mother. Also complicating matters is a loathsome paparazzo named the Lion, who tracks Xan down in French Beach, disturbing the sought-after privacy of father and daughter.
As life on land becomes increasingly complicated, Nat experiences two remarkable, almost magical interactions with whales. Baleine is French for whale – Nat’s mother bestowed the name on her before leaving. These maritime adventures help Nat contextualize the pain surrounding that unresolved relationship and ultimately provide her with the impetus to move on.
While Nat, Xan, and Harry are all well-drawn, entertaining characters, Rivers’s alternating points of view, split between Nat and Harry, unnecessarily complicate matters. The reader doesn’t get a chance to sit with and savour the book’s quieter moments and disclosures. Plus, having three garrulous main characters leads to some unintentionally grating dialogue. A Possibility of Whales is an unusual and compassionate tale, but its more consequential and meaningful elements tend to get overshadowed in a somewhat untethered, overly busy read.