Books·Canadian

Amphibian

Amphibian is a novel by Carla Gunn.

Carla Gunn

Nine-year-old Phineas William Walsh has an encyclopedic knowledge of the natural world. He knows that if you wet a dog's food with your saliva and he refuses to eat it then he's top dog, and he knows that dolphins can sleep half a brain at a time. What he doesn't know, though, is why his grandfather died, or why waste-of-flesh Lyle always picks on him. Or why his parents can't live together — after all, when other mate-for-life animals have a fight, it's not like one of them just packs his bags and leaves the country.

To make it to-infinity worse, he's worried sick about what humans are doing to the planet, and his mother is worried sick about him. But shouldn't everyone be losing sleep over the fact that a quarter of all Earth's mammals are on the Red List of Threatened Species? So, when a White's tree frog ends up in an aquarium in his fourth-grade classroom, it's the last straw, and he and his best friend, Bird, are spurred to action. (From Coach House Books)

Amphibian is on the Canada Reads 2020 longlist. The final five books and their champions will be revealed on Jan. 22, 2020.

Carla Gunn is a professor at the University of New Brunswick. Amphibian is her first book.

From the book

When I got home, my mother was on the telephone, likely interviewing someone for a story. She's a journalist. She works at an office building in the mornings but mostly at home in the afternoons. Sometimes when she gets off the phone or home from an interview, she's really sad. She won't tell me why, she'll just say, 'Hard story, Phin.' That's the code for don't talk to her until after she comes out of her bedroom.

I lay down on her office sofa and looked up at the ceiling. I counted the face patterns I saw in all the little blobs of paint. Seven. And one looked just like a mouse.

When she got off the phone, my mom said, 'Why the long face, Phinnie?' So I told her about how Bird got moved to the front of the room and I got left at the back with Kaitlyn and Gordon who aren't even my best friends.

'Oh, that's disappointing, sweetheart,' said my mother, 'but maybe it's good to sit beside someone new for a change.'

'But I don't want to sit beside Kaitlyn – I want to sit beside Bird. That's one of the only things that makes school fun.'

'I know you don't like it, Phin, but you can put up with it. And look at it this way – adversity builds character.'

'What the heck does that mean?'

'Well, when I was your age, Granddad used to tell me a story about a man who found a cocoon and thought he'd help the butterfly out by cutting it open. Problem was, the butterfly wasn't ready to emerge and so it ended up with shrivelled wings and was never able to fly. What Granddad meant was that it's good to struggle – it builds muscles.'

'Well, that might be true, but I'm getting too much of a workout.'


From Amphibian by Carla Gunn ©2009. Published by Coach House Books.