Odder is a curious and spunky sea otter in the ocean, spritely enjoying water play with her more cautious older friend, when she is bitten by a shark. Now Odder is fighting for her life. Thankfully, in the middle grade novel Odder by Katherine Applegate (Feiwel & Friends, September 2022), this memorable otter is rescued by humans. Odder’s sweet story is based on the true story of how humans trained rehabilitated otters to care for orphaned newborn otters.
As the title suggest, Odder primarily shared a story from our young otter friend’s perspective. Applegate writes in a free verse poetic style, just as in her Newbery-Award winning novel The One and Only Ivan (see my review). But with a third-person narration, Odder didn’t have the same intimacy that Ivan’s first person narration evoked. Odder’s tale just wasn’t as powerful or personal, and her character wasn’t drawn out and easily identifiable as a result. Odder’s journey took her back and forth from her home habitat and the human recovery tank. She was confused, and so the narration from her perspective also seemed confused. The narrative didn’t build on her new relationships with the female otters in the aquarium, and although the text introduced Kairi as Odder’s special friend, it feels very superficial. I didn’t feel a strong connection to her either.
With it’s adorable otter cover, Odder may be a nice choice for animal lovers. It will especially be appreciated by those who want to see a glimpse into the otter habitat and an overview of how otter rehabilitation is done. That said, some scenes will be heartbreaking. (*Spoiler! In particular, I gasped when I read the story of a stillborn baby otter. The emotional scene was difficult for me to read, especially since the otters explain that the humans had to force the mother otter to give up her dead baby). I wonder how animal lovers will take this scene.
The end notes explain how scientists at the Monterey Bay Aquarium in the 1990s learned to rehabilitate orphaned baby otters using the techniques as shown in the novel. The technique helped bring these otters back from the brink of extinction. The novel ends with a feeling of hope as Odder realizes that although she may not return to her ocean, she can do good. Her new job is to teach baby otters how to rejoice in water play. Odder has transformed from spritely pup to a playful surrogate mother, and she is now ready to pass her unique curiosity on to the next generation of baby otters. Her’s is a sweet story.