Willa and the Whale

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Pub Date 03 Mar 2020 | Archive Date 17 Mar 2020

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When her mother dies, twelve-year-old Willa feels lost and alone except when she connects with things her mom loved about the wonders of the ocean as a marine biologist.

While on a whale-watching excursion with her dad, who is trying to cheer her up after Willa is sent to live with him and his new family, Willa is alone on one side of the boat when she sees a humpback whale. Her awe and wonderment about this massive and beautiful creature turns to shock when the whale communicates with her, introducing herself as Meg and exchanging small talk. Willa asks if they can talk again, and Meg tells her that if she goes to the edge of the shore and calls out to her, she'll reply. Whales, after all, are very social creatures and communicate by sounds that can travel for miles, underwater.

As their friendship develops, Willa views Meg as a trusted confidant who offers sound advice about dealing with a nemesis at school and trying to figure out why her best friend, Mark, is keeping secrets about his family life—all the kinds of talks her mom would normally have with her. She also learns about how similar whales are to humans in caring deeply for their babies, creating communities called "pods," and even singing.

When a blue whale washes up on shore and dies, the townspeople jump into action with opinions about what to do with it. Blue whales are the largest animals known to have ever existed, so there is no simple solution. Some are advocating blowing up the whale, some want to cut it up and drag it out to sea, others say let it rot on the obscure beach. Willa is outraged by what she views as inhumane treatment of the deceased whale and vows to do something about it, which is precisely what her mom would have wanted. She knows this is a problem she can't tackle alone, though, and enlists her friends, family, and the City Council to rescue the body of the whale and donate it to the local university where her mom taught for further study and to display the bones.

Feeling good about getting her community to band together in service of science and conservation, Willa returns to the shore to tell Meg about her amazing experience. Her joy is tempered with sadness when Meg tells Willa that it is time for her pod to migrate, but it's okay to say goodbye because they will always be connected in a special way in their hearts because they care about each other and showed it by listening and learning about each other.

Willa and the Whale is a poignant story about caring and loss and the deep connections that make us human.

When her mother dies, twelve-year-old Willa feels lost and alone except when she connects with things her mom loved about the wonders of the ocean as a marine biologist.

While on a whale-watching...

Advance Praise

“A tale of grief, mourning, and the power of community to restore one’s emotional balance after a tragedy. This must-purchase may challenge readers to keep a dry eye.”

School Library Journal, starred review

“Moving and buoyant, an insightful tale of grief, loss, and resilience.”


“A moving story that presents raw grief and the hope born of healing in a sensitive, realistic manner.”


“A tale of grief, mourning, and the power of community to restore one’s emotional balance after a tragedy. This must-purchase may challenge readers to keep a dry eye.”

School Library Journal, starred...

Available Editions

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ISBN 9781629727318
PRICE $16.99 (USD)

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Average rating from 31 members

Featured Reviews

This book was a sweet, poignant story dealing with coping, sadness, and loss. I think that it delicately handled how a person who lost a parent might have been feeling without making those feeling seem wrong or like they just needed to get over it to be happy. At no point in the story did anyone tell Willa that she shouldn't feel sad anymore; instead, they helped her overcome the sadness so that it didn't feel so unbearable. The interactions between Willa and her family and friends felt genuine and enjoyable to read. Willa herself never felt whiny or overbearing, but felt like someone I could easily connect to. This is a great story to normalize and humanize sadness and feeling overwhelmed by negative things, but also allowed for the reader to experience humor, joy, and the sense of overcoming something difficult. It was a truly enjoyable read

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Willa's mother passed away a month ago and her dad has taken her whale watching. Willa connects with a whale while out on the ocean. This trip also allows her to reconnect with her friend Marco and as their friendship grows, they find that they needed each other to each heal their own demons.

This book is perfect for middle grade readers and deals poignantly with grief and loss.

Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for this ARC in exchange for my honest review.

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So, Willa meets a whale, while whale watching, and find she can talk to it when she goes down to the beach. Her mother, who was a marine biologist died recently, and she is now living with her father and his new family, and there is nothing of her old life, except the house she grew up in, which is now filled with people she doesn't know.

So, yes, it is hard, and yes, she has some good talks with her whale, Meg. They talk about life, and death, and friendships, and this seems to help her with healing, at least a little.

Beautifully written it includes the story, which happened last year, as told by Meg, of a mother whale who gave birth to a baby that died, but that she kept afloat, as they migrated up the coast, for nearly two weeks. As Meg explains "She wasn't ready to let go."

There is lots of sadness in this book, but, as is pointed out, that's ok. You can be sad about losing your mother, and you don't have to stop just because everyone else has stopped.

Thanks to Netgalley for making this book available for an honest review.

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I received this ARC from the publisher through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

This book was a truly lovely story about dealing with loss and grief. It starts one month after the death of Willa's mother. Following a divorce, Willa moved with her mother to Japan where she worked as a marine biologist. Upon her death, Willa returns to her previous home on an island in the Pacific Northwest where her dad now lives with a new wife and four noisy children.

Willa's dad takes her on a whale watch on the one month anniversary of her mother's death. It is there that she has a transformative experience with a whale that becomes central to dealing with her overwhelming grief. Willa's friend Marco is happy enough to resume their friendship, but he is struggling with his own demons. Though he is exactly the friend Willa needs, he needs her just as much.

I can't say enough about this one. I loved it and know many middle grade readers will too.

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Willa and the Whale is a lovely and poignant story of a young girl coping with grief, sadness, and loss. She discovers friendship and in unlikely places and circumstances. It is a delightful book and a wonderful read.

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Willa and the Whale, by Chad Morris, is a beautiful story about loss and grief.

In the story, Willa and the Whale, you meet a young girl named Willa. Willa has been living in Japan while her mother who was a marine biologist. After her mother's untimely death, Willa's life is uprooted. She has to now go live with her father and his new family in America.

While dealing with the loss of her mother, Willa's father takes her whale watching. It is during this trip that Willa's life is transformed. She meets a whale named Meg, and the two of them help each other overcome the grief of their lives.

I thought Willa and the Whale did a beautiful job in dealing with a very sensitive manner. Willa's feelings of grief were heard and supported. She took the steps she needed to move on with the help from her father, Meg, and a new friend she meets.

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As a fan of middle grade books, and anything to do with whales in general, I have to admit that when I requested Willa and the Whale to read it was purely a cover-love request, but I'm pleased to say that this was a surprisingly poignant read.

Thirteen-year old Willa has spent the last few years living with her marine biologist mother in Japan, but when her mother dies unexpectedly, she returns to the United States to live with her father and step-family in her old hometown. Willa, like her mother, has a passion for marine life, and on a whale-watching trip, meets Meg, a humpback whale who can inexplicably communicate with her. In Meg, Willa finds a confidant, as well as a source of wisdom and comfort as she deals with the deep loss she feels, but doesn't know how to cope with.

Willa and the Whale is unexpectedly powerful in the whale it depicts a young teen dealing with her grief. Feeling isolated from the new family she doesn't know yet, Willa struggles to connect and communicate with everyone, including her dad. She clings to things she knows - an old friend, Marc, and her passion for marine biology and learning. At times, this frustrates her as she finds herself in competition for top of her class with another girl, fighting for a position on the local swim team and trying to manage her feelings on her own.

While the magical realism element of the whale being able to communicate with Willa over large distances is a little out there, as we begin to get to know Willa it becomes just part of the story and the tales that Meg shares with Willa help to ease some of the grief the young teen feels and to put everything into perspective.

It was nice to see Willa's growth over the course of the novel, as she moves from seeing her new family as being separate from her, to being a group of people she might like to get to know better. It takes a tragic event in the last third of the book to get her to this point, but from that, she begins to realise that it's okay to need other people and to lean on them for support.

This will be a very important book for middle graders who struggle with grief and loss.

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This is a awesome book as all of the Morris/Brown books. It is a great book for helping to cope with loss and will be a nice additions to our collection.

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I received an arc of this title from NetGalley for an honest review. I was not able to get into this due to the subject matter being a bit too dark and sad for me at the time. That being said, we purchased copies and this book seems well-loved by many patrons.

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