The Highest Tide: A Novel

by Jim Lynch

Hardcover, 2005

Call number




Bloomsbury USA (2005), Edition: First Edition, 272 pages


A mesmerizing, allegorical, and beautifully wrought first novel about one boy's fascination with the sea during the summer that will change his life. One moonlit night, thirteen-year-old Miles O'Malley slips out of his house, packs up his kayak and goes exploring on the flats of Puget Sound. But what begins as an ordinary hunt for starfish, snails, and clams is soon transformed by an astonishing sight: a beached giant squid. As the first person to ever see a giant squid alive, the speed-reading Rachel Carson-obsessed insomniac instantly becomes a local curiosity. When he later finds a rare deepwater fish in the tidal waters by his home, and saves a dog from drowning, he is hailed as a prophet. The media hovers and everyone wants to hear what Miles has to say. But Miles is really just a teenager on the verge of growing up, infatuated with the girl next door, worried that his bickering parents will divorce, and fearful that everything, even the bay he loves, is shifting away from him. While the sea continues to offer up discoveries from its mysterious depths, Miles struggles to deal with the difficulties that attend the equally mysterious process of growing up. In this mesmerizing, beautifully wrought first novel, we witness the dramatic sea change for both Miles and the coastline that he adores over the course of a summer - one that will culminate with the highest tide in fifty years.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member EBT1002
Miles O'Malley is a precocious and bookish 13-year-old with a passion for marine life. He lives in Olympia, WA, in what we locals call the "South Sound" region, and he knows more about marine animals, especially those living in the shallows and the mud flats created by low tides, than most of us will ever even hear about. He has a crush on the girl next door, who is older and used to babysit for him, and his best friend is a horny, rude, somewhat "typical" 13-year-old (who turns out to have a good heart when all is said and done). His other best friend is an elderly lady with rapidly progressing Parkinson's and a fierce self-reliant streak. His parents are considering a divorce. You know. Early adolescence at its most classic.

Miles finds a Giant Squid on the flats one day and the rest is, as they say, history. His discoveries of several rare marine life finds in the mud flats that summer lead to uncomfortable fame, disillusionment, and redemption. He is possibly Rachel Carson's greatest fan and a quote (not confirmed by me) from her acceptance speech for the National Book Award is a shining moment in the narrative: "If there is poetry in my book about the sea it is not because I deliberately put it there but because no one could write truthfully about the sea and leave out poetry." Fair enough.

Another quote worth sharing is from Florence, the fiercely independent old woman who sees and admires Miles more genuinely than anyone else: "Life is something you do alone, Miles. You can only help and be helped but so much." That resonated for me.

I know the South Sound mud flats about which Jim Lynch has written. His evocation of the setting, including the town of Olympia, was true and enjoyable. For one who knows the region and has walked along those mud flats. I'm not sure it would translate effectively for someone who is unfamiliar with the idiosyncrasies of the flora, the fauna, the weather, and the atmosphere of the South Puget Sound region. The book has shining moments but Lynch's storytelling is too specific. If you've never been to the South Sound region, this is not the book to sell you on a visit. If you have, and if you love it, or even if you just think it's interesting, this book is a worthwhile read.
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LibraryThing member delphica
I know it's not an exact science, but I was very surprised this is shelved in YA at my local library. It's one of those coming of age stories that is very lyrical and contemplative and, I assume, of more interest to adults.

Anyway, this is a story about a young boy living in the Pacific Northwest who spends his spare time exploring the tidal pools of Puget Sound (alas there was no singing of Cheyenne or any chickens). Miles begins making discoveries of unusual wildlife, bringing an alarming amount of media attention to his neighborhood. While all of this is going on, he is cultivating a crush on the teenage girl next door (his former babysitter) and also maintains interesting relationships with some of the local characters.

It reminded me a little of L'Engle in the approach to presenting the ecology of the tide pools in an eloquent and loving way.

Grade: B+
Recommended: It's really very good reading, the rambling style occasionally gets out of hand but not too much.
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LibraryThing member Peggy72
What an extraordinary book! I'm still astounded that this is a debut novel. The style is very simple but has levels of meaning that leave you thunderstruck and observations of human nature that are breathtaking in their truthfulness. It is also wickedly funny and will in many parts have you laughing till your sides hurt.
On the surface it is a coming of age tale of a sensitive 13 year old boy fascinated by the marine life on the seashore where he lives whose hero is the famous marine biologist and nature writer Rachel Carson. His keen observation skills and insight into the natural world sees him manipulated into becoming an unwilling messiah by the adults around him who have their own agendas.
But this book is so much more. It is an ode to the wonder and mystery of the world we live in, its shocking beauty and fathomless wisdom. It is an appeal to us to open our eyes to the people around us and the bonds that hold us together. It is about recognising the right places from where our spiritual strength should be drawn.
It really is a magnificent gem of a book that has become one of my favourite reads of all time and its books like these that reinforce my love of reading.
Buy, borrow or steal a copy!!! You won't be disappointed.
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LibraryThing member lorielibrarian
Nifty read if you enjoy lots of detailed descriptions of ocean creatures. I listened to the book on CD and found the reader slightly irritating, but otherwise very enjoyable.
LibraryThing member erinclark
I listened to this book on CD and enjoyed it. I have a special place in my heart for the Pacific North West and it's tidal pools so I appreciated the detailed descriptions of sea life.
LibraryThing member gwendolyndawson
A tale of a 13-year-old boy's magical summer on the mud flats off the coast of Washington. The summer is filled with unusual discoveries, including a giant squid. A good dose of marine biology tied with a touching coming of age story.
LibraryThing member brewbooks
The central character, Miles, sums up what his heroine Rachel Carson has to say about the sea (and life) :
"She has this one quote I really like in Edge of the Sea about how our search for the meaning of life draws usto the tidal flats: ' It sends us back to the edge of the sea, where the drama of life played its first scene on earth and perhaps even its prelude; where the forces of evolution are at work today, as they have been since the appearance of what we know as life; and where the spectacle of living creatures faced by the cosmic realities of their world is crystal clear.' And then she later says, 'So the present is linked with the past and future, and each living thing with all that surrounds it."

Yet Miles suffers cofusion in his thoughts. In an interview he says: "I try not to ask myself impossible questions." I was winging it. I'd never held that thought or the one that came after it. "We don't even understand everything that can go on in a drop of saltwater, so it makes sense to me that we can't understand everything."

A final Rachel Carson quote from The Sea Around Us summarizes Miles for me:
"In its mysterious past it encompasses all the dim origins of life and receives in the end, after, it may be, many transmutations of dead husks of that same life. For all at last return to the sea –- to Oceanus, the river ocean, like the ever flowing stream of time, the beginning and the end."

THis is a truly worthwhile first novel, if you want to fill in the blanks... go get The Highest Tide and reseve some hours to read this through.
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LibraryThing member Griff
Miles O’Malley is more than just smart for his size; he is wise beyond his years. His message is succinct, elegant and quite powerful.

“Look around.”

Look around. How simple. How rich his life will be because he simply looks around.

It is ironic that it is a boy of thirteen years providing insight regarding all that many of us are missing in life by not seeing when he recounts a BioBlitz moment:

…I watched astonished locals stare at sea life for the first time.

How true. It is seldom that we take the time to truly observe what is around us on a daily basis, what we often believe is routine.

If you watched the bay often enough you eventually saw the inexplicable.

In Death Comes for the Archbishop, Willa Cather makes a similar observation about “the Miracles of the Church” – with the observation that such miracles are not the product of fantastic and unbelievable things coming from on high, rather they are a product of taking time to sharpen one’s senses in order to more fully experience the small things that are around us at all times.

Miles’ frequent visits to the tidal flats uncovered many inexplicable events, the series of which raises the specter of his being selected – of being special in inexplicable ways. In his realization and acceptance of being ordinary, paradoxically he becomes more special.

His words didn’t sound or feel real. What the exercise had proved to me was that what went on that summer had nothing to do with me. Not a little. Nothing. What I’d seen was just a sliver of the new life bubbling in our waters, and the only reason I’d seen more than most was because I was the only one looking.

It was a huge relief, in a way, to know that I hadn’t actually been selected for anything, but I admit being disappointed to know, for certain, that I was as ordinary as I felt.

Miles is also special because, unlike most of us, he sees beyond the expected and desired.

Like anything else, people wanted to see beauties or freaks.

Although his tidal flat discoveries are the focus of his celebrity, it is his ability to see the essence within people that is his greatest gift. For example, most who knew Florence came away with one thought – an eccentric “psychic” out of touch with reality. Miles saw much more to Florence. Again, in understanding she was ordinary and not extraordinary (his realization when seeing her bedroom after her death in the midst of the highest tide), he reminds us to look closely – for commonalities and differences both.

Grown-ups are always more fascinated by what you might become than what you are.

Certainly Miles’ parents, especially his father, primarily saw a child of short stature – one they deeply desired to be taller. The frequent measurement of height. The desired hope for greater height. His father was consumed by this view of his son, a view that slights the full picture of Miles in so many ways. Miles’ observation above is a nice reminder to look at people here and now, accept them for what they are – to examine them for the full breadth and depth of who they are rather than the hint of a hoped for future.

One of the most striking examples of Miles’ ability to truly see beyond the obvious is in his relationship with Angie. He sees beyond outrageous behavior, the black rose tattoo and body piercings. Miles falls in love with something deeper within Angie, touchingly expressed when he says, “I know it sounds ridiculous, but I can take care of you.”

Just as he realized that he was one of the few people in the world that Florence trusted, he eventually knows the depth of feeling returned by Angie when she whispers, “The ocean will wait for you, Miles…and so will I.” The rewards reaped by Miles are great because he goes beyond the superficial and is truly open to all that he observes in those he meets.

Time is wasting. There is no rehearsal. Stimulated by Miles and his wondrous summer, it is time to open my eyes. He may have grown a mere nine-sixteenths of an inch during those early teen summer months, but he will help all of us grow considerably more if we heed his advice.

This book, a quick read, was warm, wonderful, and quietly inspiring. Somewhere along the way, maybe on Amazon, I believe Miles was referred to as the Owen Meany of the Puget Sound. Both small in stature, both well worth listening to if one desires to live a fuller life.

“Why is it that you always seem to find amazing things in these bays?” she persisted.

“Because I’m always looking,” I said, “and there are so many things to see.”

“But you keep seeing things that people shouldn’t normally be able to see, right?”

“The unusual becomes routine if you spend enough time out here.”
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LibraryThing member mmhubbell
purchased in Nantucket, read two or three chapters.. unimpressed.
LibraryThing member nbmars
The Highest Tide is a love story on several levels. Superficially, it is about the romantic love thirteen year old Miles O’Malley feels for his former babysitter Angie; his caring love for his older neighbor Florence; his comradely love for his friend Kenny Phelps; and his conflicted love for his parents and their conflicted love for each other. But overarching them all is a love for the beauty of life in the sea, and how much there is to see around you if only you take the time to look.

This lovely paean to marine life turns tidepools into treasure chests, as we accompany Miles on his nightly collecting forays into Skookumchuck Bay in Puget Sound. We learn about the dazzling beauty of the Nudibranch, the mating habits of barnacles, the defensive strategies of sea cucumbers, and the nesting patterns of butterfly squids. We become acquainted with the addictions of razor clams, the male parenting skills of sea horses, the navigational hazards of sand dollars and survival tactics of sand fleas. No dry encyclopedia is this, but rather a picture book of words that evokes such images as “pulsing moon jellies” in “an endless gaggle of fringed, see-through flowers packed so tightly together… they changed the texture and color of the bay in the silvery glare of the forgotten sun.”

Miles escapes to the sea when he feels troubled: …”it was hard for me to feel fear or sadness at dawn on that bay, especially when I knew the sun wouldn’t set for another fifteen hours and thirty-two minutes, and the water was so clear I could see coon-stripe shrimp in the eelgrass near the tavern and the bottomless bed of white clam shells pooled across the sunken tip of Penrose Point.”

In this summer that marks Miles’ coming of age, the transmutations that come into his life are echoed by the changes in the ocean, yet Miles understands that it is all part of an ever-flowing process; that life is both unique and timeless. From his study of Rachel Carson, he learns the lesson to “see as much as you can see.” Adults, caught up in their long “to-do lists” tend to forget the beauty and magnificence of nature, and even, of each other.
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LibraryThing member Hagelstein
Miles O’Malley is 13 and knows more about the sea life of Puget Sound than most experts. His innocence and anonymity are under attack after he finds two rare sea creatures one summer and becomes an object of media interest. He fears his parents are divorcing, he’s in love with the wild older girl next door, and his elderly neighbor, who Miles would describe as his best friend in the world, is dying.

The tidal and sea life of the Sound are so prominent as to be another character. As in his second novel, “Border Songs,” Jim Lynch creates an entire world by melding nature and characters to create a story where they become inseparable.
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LibraryThing member co_coyote
The truest stories are always fiction, it seems to me, and few are better than this wonderful first novel by Jim Lynch. This book was recommended to me by an extremely knowledgeable bookseller in a small, independent bookstore in Edmonds, Washington on a recent visit to the San Juan Islands on a sea kayaking trip. The descriptions of marine biology in this book are compelling, but what keeps the fast-paced story moving is how much you like the narrator, 13-year-old Miles O'Malloy. I can't wait to get back to the Northwest to see all the things I missed the first time.… (more)
LibraryThing member emhromp2
I think this book is a lot of things at the same time: funny, honest, mythical, sad, disturbing and realistic.
I picked it up because it was described as being a cross between Haddon and Martel, which sounded interesting enough.
Miles is a very amiable hero and he is portrayed perfectly. I laughted out loud at his logical observations. The other characters were also memorable. In short, this book is a recommendation to anyone.… (more)
LibraryThing member Zmrzlina
I am not a huge fan of coming-of-age stories (after To Kill A Mockingbird, why bother writing another!) but this one caught my attention because Rachel Carson has a role and my city, Pittsburgh, just named a bridge for her. Also, it takes place on the Washington coast, an area of the US I'm keen on visiting.

The story is fast moving and very interesting (lots of marine biology delivered without lecture). A bit too metaphysical in places for my taste, but that is done sort of tongue in cheek and it is easy enough not to take it too seriously. You can't help but love Miles, the protagonist. He is so strangely familiar, perhaps because he is the angst in all of us when on the brink of adulthood. A fine debut novel and I hope the author makes a sophomore effort.… (more)
LibraryThing member sonyagreen
My coworker handed this to me (as I was digging around the cataloging area looking for a new book to start during lunch) and said that the writing style is the most clear and beautiful she'd ever read.

I'm only on page 20, but she may be right.

Plus it's all coasty, and I'm all coasty.
LibraryThing member Salsabrarian
Audiobook review: Miles is a hopeless seashore geek but his genuine enthusiasm for the life that washes onto Puget Sound shores inevitably draws us into its wonders. Reader Fisher Stevens does a great job voicing Miles' passion for marine life, an interest that anchors him in an otherwise bumbling adolescence. Lib notes: swearing, boys' graphic but funny discussions about sex, some drug use… (more)
LibraryThing member countrylife
The kid was engaging, his environ interesting, the biology lessons impressive, but when it’s all said and done, you have just another scare-you-into-environmentalism story.
LibraryThing member PilgrimJess
“I was a fluke in a classroom full of flukes on a planet overpopulated by flukes.”

This is a beautifully evocative coming of age story. Who as a child has not visited rock pools along the beach turning stones with a net and bucket and marvelled what was lying beneath? Well this is a book that rekindles those halcyon days.

Miles O'Malley is something of the class freak preferring to spend time on the local mud flats rather than playing with school friends or on computers etc spending every moment that he can out there unfettered by parental control. He loves to read about marine life and a famous ecologist Rachel Carson is his heroine. He has an almost encyclopaedic knowledge of marine life within his bay collecting and selling clams that he digs up to a local restaurant and other more exotic marine life to local aquariums. Then one summer just before his 14th birthday he discovers a giant squid, normally only found in the ocean depths, along with some other discoveries along the way,saves a dog's and a friend's life and suddenly fame and cult celebrity is thrown his way. When asks 'why is he the only one making these discoveries?' he answers with childish ignorance 'because he is probably the only one looking' so we see the curiosity of youth but he is also a lad going through puberty

He soon realises that his life is changing in unimagined ways. His parents are discussing divorce, his best friend an old woman psychic is dying of a variant of Parkinsons and the girl whom he worships from afar ODs. Thus he is forced to face some very grown up aspects. However,there are also some elements of humour which did not make me laugh out loud but did make me smile.

This is quite an easy read but that is not to say that it is not well written because it is and I felt that the character development particularly Mile's relationship with his parents is well done. This is a charming book and a reminder of our own long lost youth.
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LibraryThing member zmagic69
A combination coming of age story and a marine biology lesson, it works well on both counts. This was an easy entertaining book., which refreshingly did not claim climate change was responsible, thank god!
LibraryThing member nmele
This is a lyric poem to Puget Sound disguised as a coming of age novel; or a coming of age novel disguised as a panegyric to Puget Sound. Either way, it's beautiful, moving, funny and hopeful.
LibraryThing member Smiley
The marine science and resultant wonder are the best parts of this over hyped first novel.

This is supposed to be told in the voice of an awkward 13 year old boy. The author crowds to the front on nearly every page. For example, in one set piece the narrator and friends call a 900 number to ask some basic sex questions, then 25 pages later the same narrator describes a retreating tide as a slow striptease. (?). End paper maps of the area described in the novel would have been helpful. A disappointment.… (more)
LibraryThing member CarltonC
A decent book, but over-hyped
LibraryThing member Berly
This book was such a sweet break from all the heavy topics surrounding me (Racism, Covid-19, parents with Dementia) and I loved it. Miles is a young boy who absolutely lives for his daily ocean shoreline discoveries. That and his crush on his next door neighbor. And his best friend, the elderly housebound woman. He is awkward and utterly brilliant and I loved the mix of wry humor, human connections, and the beauty of tidal marshes and its strange inhabitants. As Miles makes astonishing discovery after discovery, the local news station takes note and he soon becomes a celebrity, whether he wants to be or not. It didn't hurt that the book takes place in the state next door to me, Washington.… (more)
LibraryThing member Maggie_Rum
Amazing! This is the story of an outcast boy obsessed with the ocean and Rachel Carson.
LibraryThing member MargaretPinardAuthor
I loved this book. The narrator's voice, the feeling of a single summer in his coming of age, the incredible things he discovers, the lessons he learns... it all came together very well, and was both highly entertaining and truly original. Set intricately in the Puget Sound, in the Pacific Northwest.




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