When Isabelle Nieto inherits her family’s tuna cannery in Mexico, she moves from the United States to run the business and live in the run-down family mansion. And there, she finds a dirty, unspeaking, scarred little girl living a wild existence. Isabelle cleans her up, names her Karen, and sets about teaching her to speak and to write and to live as normal people do, all while trying to make the tuna cannery viable.
Karen grows up and speaks and writes and even goes to college. But she is autistic, and interactions with others don’t come naturally. In fact, when she becomes overwhelmed, she finds comfort in donning a diving wetsuit and hanging from a fish harness attached to her bedroom ceiling. She doesn’t understand the strange ways in which most other humans interact with each other, and love doesn’t make sense. But she does appreciate the fish she works with at the family cannery, and she empathizes with animals. And she has some particular, impressive talents.
The plot follows Karen through her life up until she’s in her 40s and is written completely in her voice, so readers get to see through her eyes and experience her world as she sees it, which is the most compelling reason to read the book. I found it so fascinating to read how the autistic Karen interprets others’ actions and reactions to her and to see how she perceives … well, everything. The book also has some messages about caring for the earth and the creatures in it, but I found those to be fairly pedestrian and unoriginal (actually, even a little annoying) compared to the intriguing opportunity of just being able to move about through Karen’s world.
Rated: High. There are about 30 uses of strong language (which seemed really excessive, especially since the book is fairly short), in addition to at least the same number of uses of milder language. There are also some sexual references, though somewhat mild and brief, and a little bit of violence and some gore, primarily in relation to the killing of tuna and dolphins.