Thursday, July 29, 2010

Book Review: Amphibian by Carla Gunn

I just finished reading Amphibian by Carla Gunn and have been torn about whether or not to post an entry about it.

The book, although environmentally-themed, has virtually nothing to do with veganism and thus I'm not sure it has a place here on my blog, but it is such a charming little story that relates so closely to what many of us vegans experience on a day-to-day basis that I thought I should mention it to the other avid readers who may take a glimpse at my blog.

Amphibian tells the story of nine-year-old Phineas Walsh, an incredibly clever and precocious boy who would spends his time watching The Green Channel and authoring short stories about a fictional planet paralleling the plight of our own Earth's environment.

Phin's concern rests on not only the horrible things happening to the Earth and the creatures that inhabit it, but also the fact that no one - not his classmates, not his mother, not the psychiatrist that his mother forces him to see - seems to give a damn that any of it is happening. His concerns are continually berated by those around him and reach a boiling point when his mother, under the guidance of his therapist, forbids Phin from watching The Green Channel in an effort to manage his anxiety. The problem, they say, is not with the world (which he could never possibly change) - the problem is with him.

This story is about what it feels like to be an outsider. To care about something so important to the very fabric of who we are and where we live; to care about something that is not only not shared by others in young Phin's life, but something that is continually mocked by most of those around him. Although indirectly, it does relate to the experiences we go through as vegans.

It is curious that there is no mention of Phin being a vegetarian. Phin is consumed with saving animals (even "Cuddles" the classroom frog) and there are definite animal activist undertones to many of the things he says, such as:

"But do you know what I think? I think that some people can't stand to think that animals feel a lot like human beings. I think it's hard enough for people like my mom to write and hear about what's happening to other human beings around the world - let alone other animals too. Knowing that so many more of the earth's animals feel sadness and pain is just way too much hurt for their minds to let them see."

It is common knowledge now that the most effective thing any single person can do for the environment is to abstain from eating animal products, and I am convinced that someone who is as aware of the world around him and as concerned for the planet as Phin is would take up, at the very least, a vegetarian diet.

Regardless of veganism being overlooked, this is a charming story about a little boy who wants to change the world and a world of people that think he is, quite literally, crazy. It's a story that I think will be appreciated by the many folks out there who, like me, bawl their eyes out while watching the animals covered in oil in the Gulf or spend their nights staring at the ceiling wondering where clean drinking water is going to come from in a few years. It touches on what it means to be a part of the 21st century world, a place where a large portion of people are obsessed with the environment and preserving our planet and yet refuse to make any real changes because they may involve some level of sacrifice. My favourite part of Amphibian involves a classroom Earth Day celebration where the assignment is to draw a picture of the greatest gift humans can give the earth. Phin's picture is equal parts hilarious, depressing and - unfortunately - painfully accurate.

If you are easily frustrated by environmental literature that does not at least mention the importance of veganism to our planet's survival, I would not suggest picking up this book. If you can look past that, I think Amphibian is an entertaining and inspiring story about just how lonely the burden of knowing too much can be and the differences that one person (even a little boy) can make in the world.


The Voracious Vegan said...

Awww I think it sounds beautiful! What a charming, sweet story. I'm glad you did the review. It is a shame that veganism wasn't mentioned, but that is definitely to be expected, it is still considered so radical, after all. But maybe this will open some eyes - there was definitely a lot of animal rights undertones, as you mentioned.

Bliss Doubt said...

Thanks for the recommendation. I'll read it. Can't wait.

Your book reviews do have a place on your blog. A vegan blog is always about so much more than recipes. It is always about why you are what you are.

I relate to Phin. My elderly boss and I had an awful argument about drilling in the Alaska Wildlife Refuge, and she said "we've been drilling everywhere all these years, and look, nothing has happened!" So I'm in a position of having to remind her about the spill off the California coast which is the whole reason we have the big, commercial ta-do called "Earth Day", about BP's last horrendous accident in Prudhoe Bay, and this was BEFORE the Horizon blowout. Now she too has to look at the footage of oil covered animals, and I'd like to broach the subject again, but it doesn't make anybody feel better.

In the US, all these things seem to be lumped into "left" and "right". Animal rights people and environmentalists are "left wing", and on the right, it's "consumption = profits", and "drill baby drill". Safety and regulation is "left wing", technological arrogance is "right wing". It's a bit better in Europe, but not a lot better.

As a Texan, I read blogs like yours and I feel that I'm not all alone in the world.

Mary said...

Voracious - I often forget just how "radical" veganism is to the's such a joyful part of my life that I have to remind myself how much the general public struggles with the concept.

Bliss - I know what it's like to feel like you're all alone in your thoughts and convictions regarding the use of animals. Southern Ontario is a somewhat progressive place (although we do have a lot of farmland and thus similar conservative viewpoints regarding animals, coming from some camps) so I can only imagine what it's like for vegans down south where our views are not as widely embraced (or at the very less tolerated)...I'm glad for the online world where we can all connect and bridge the gaps in geography!

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