[Book Review] Into the Blue (Dolphin Diaries #1) by Ben M. Baglio

Jody McGrath's dolphin dreams are coming true! Her whole family is sailing around the world researching dolphins - and Jody is recording all their exciting adventures in her Dolphin Diaries...

Jody can't believe her dolphin voyage has begun. A whole world of discovery awaits her aboard the Dolphin Dreamer.

But an unexpected passenger threatens to spoil the trip of a lifetime. And when a sudden storm puts Jody's life in danger, who can she turn to for help?

In the first book of the Dolphin Diaries series, Jody McGrath and her family ship out with the crew of the Dolphin Dreamer. With her are Craig and Gina McGrath, her parents; Sean and Jimmy McGrath, her younger twin brothers; Harry Pierce, the captain; Dr. Taylor, a corporate scientist; Cameron Tucker, the first mate; Mei Lin, the Chinese cook/engineer; Maddie, the African American research assistant; and Brittany, Harry's daughter who was effectively abandoned by her mother and definitely doesn't want to take part in any research trip.

All in all, it's a cute story, though it has its fair share of flaws. For one, the concept and science are, as far as I know, a tad outdated now it's been nearly fifteen years since the book was published. The idea of setting up a database like the one they describe in the story seems like a particularly "early 2000s" idea. (Though I'm fairly sure there are plenty of areas of study that still lack such tools, I don't expect the ever-popular dolphin to be quite so neglected.) And the story about the endangered baiji dolphin is more heartbreaking now that no one's sighted one in several years and they may possibly have already gone extinct.

Other areas of note are the characters—two in particular. The Dolphin Dreamer is funded in part by an oil company, which I think is an interesting shade of grey to add to the story, but so far the only thing that's come of it is the addition of another scientist to the expedition. This character, Dr. Taylor, is the most stereotypical fuddy-duddy scientist you can imagine; he disapproves of anyone having any form of fun, he's clearly implied to be entirely inexperienced with field work, and he refuses to see dolphins—the creatures he's paid to learn about—as anything more than mindless animals void of personality and incapable of any behavior he hasn't read about in his books. It's kind of ridiculous, and I really hope to see Bagley do something a little more interesting with the character in later installments.

Meanwhile, Brittany is a cookie-cutter Rich Bitch stereotype. Her mother is neglectful, she doesn't connect with her father because he works too much to spend time bonding with her, and her personality is your typical mash-up of spoiled, whiny, and self-centered. Oddly, in spite of the fact that her character arc will obviously be one of "redemption", she has her pivotal "learning her lesson" scene halfway through the book and almost immediately hits the reset button to revert back to her former brattiness. (Most series at least have the decency to hit the reset button between books—not chapters!) Honestly, I'm not even going to bother hoping that she turns around, because I've seen this stock character too many times to care about another one.

The only other complaint I can make is that the book paints a very idealized picture of dolphins. None of the more disturbing (from a human perspective) behaviors are even alluded to (which is perfectly reasonable, given that it's a children's series), and Jody quite vehemently defends their carnivorous diets (which is in character for her but still felt a bit silly).

On the other hand, it's a really cute, vaguely scientific series from the penname behind Animal Ark, and I highly recommend it to any children interested in dolphins.

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