Apparently this Patrick Ness guy is pretty big amongst readers of Young Adult books. This is the first time I've read any of his work. Ness, in an obvious attempt to hook me as a reader, decided to put a finely illustrated whale on the cover. Seriously, every well drawn whale cover ends up on my to-read pile. I'm a sucker for blubber. Here I must apologize to the other whale books on my to-read list that have been there far longer than And the Ocean Was Our Sky. (I'll get around to you all soon.)
If you haven't already heard, And the Ocean Was Our Sky is Moby Dick turned upside down. (Literally, as kids today might say.) Told by the whales, we quickly learn that the whales perceive their ocean as being above the sky, and they descend to reach the surface where the human ships are. Cool idea. I like it. Then it gets a tad hokey...
The whales, believers of prophecy, sail in ships of their own construction. They hunt humans, using “their bones for tallow and soaps, their skin for sails, their meat … as bait for the vast shoals of prey...” They speak to one another and can, if taught, speak to humans in proper English. So basically the whales are human, the humans are human, up is down and down is up. Make sense? But you can breath a sigh of relief, because there isn't a whale in this book named Moby Dick. So who do the whales hunt? The illusive human with “a rump like he know nil,*” Toby Wick. Yes, Toby Wick, ladies and gentlemen. See what I'm saying, it's kind of hokey.
What saves And the Ocean Was Our Sky is a good overall concept, brevity, and the wonderful illustrations of Rovina Cai. They're simple drawings, but they work well to convey the mood of the piece. If only Ness had made more subtle allusions to Moby Dick and kept the whales whales, I probably would've loved this novel. After all, there's so much great writing in this morality about our eagerness to build devils. (Also, the author refrained from placing the whales in little sailor uniforms, so kudos for that.)
*Not an actual quote from this novel, but I couldn't refrain from including it.