Amphibian
Author: Carla Gunn
Narrator: Anita Roy Dobbs
Published 2011 by Iambik
7 hours, 18 minutes – Unabridged

AMPHIBIAN cover

Young Phineas Walsh is having a tough year. His parents are separated and his dad spends most of his time working in far-flung areas of the globe, his Grade 4 teacher Mrs. Wardman has no patience for his precocious mind and prodigious knowledge of the natural world, and the class bully just won’t leave him alone. Now, on top of everything else, the new class pet is a White’s tree frog, and Phin can tell the creature is simply miserable cooped up in a tiny glass aquarium under artificial light. The boy can practically feel the frog’s pain and suffering.

Projecting all the frustration of his own misfit existence onto the small amphibian, and bringing along everything he knows from a lifetime of reading up on animals and the environment (not to mention his daily habit of watching the Green Channel), Phin soon conceives a cunning scheme to rescue Cuddles the frog and return him to his natural habitat. With his best friend Bird as an accomplice, he carries out the maneuver, but it does not go according to plan. The failed rescue and the fate of Cuddles shake Phin to his core, and he goes into a tailspin, spiraling into a pit of despair and driving his mother to distraction. What happens to Phin and his family as he works through this dark time and comes out the other side forms the core of this unusual coming-of-age story.

Phin tells his own story, in a first-person point of view that one minute endears the listener to him, and the next minute makes you want to smack him. Kind of like a real nine-year-old boy! Carla Gunn effectively captures the personality and outlook of a smart, single-minded pre-teen who takes every blow against Mother Earth deeply personally. Reader Anita Roy Dobbs does a credible job voicing this intellectually advanced but emotionally immature young hero, to the point where it’s easy for the listener to forget that this is an adult female you’re hearing. At times, her delivery borders on sing-song, but this is a minor quibble.

Matching this book up with its best audience does present a challenge. Originally published in print by Coach House Books in 2009, Amphibian, with its youthful protagonist, may spur the average adult to dismiss it as a children’s book, and what teen can be expected to be drawn to the exploits and inner thoughts of a nine-year-old? Yet there’s enough strong language in this book to disqualify it from ending up in the children’s department of most bookstores and libraries. If you can persuade them to give it a chance, though, both teens and adults who remember what it was like to be the kind of kid that Phin is, as well as parents who may be facing the daily challenges of living with a child like Phin, will find plenty to recognize and enjoy.

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