Photo: J Muckle/Studio D

8 of 15
Me, Who Dove into the Heart of the World
256 pages; Henry Holt
Karen Nieto, the narrator and unlikely heroine of Sabina Berman's enthralling debut novel, Me, Who Dove into the Heart of the World, is a feral child, abandoned by her mother to roam the beach near her family's declining tuna cannery in Mazatlán, Mexico. When the girl's mother dies, Karen's aunt, Isabelle, comes to restore the business and finds the 10-year-old hiding in tidal pools beneath the house, eating fistfuls of sand, unable to speak. Under Isabelle's patient instruction, Karen learns to read, write, and live among people. But the autistic savant feels most at home in the ocean, swimming into the fishermen's nets alongside the tuna and seeing the experience through the perspective of the prey. "Sea creatures are silent people, which is why I like being among them," she thinks. "They don't speak and therefore they don't make up things that are not real." Through Karen's simple but eloquent voice, we're immersed with her, sharing her sense of otherworldly calm. When the U.S. government, responding to activists' complaints about unnecessary cruelty and the killing of dolphins, imposes an embargo on Mexican tuna, Karen puts the insights gained during her underwater excursions to use, developing a more humane way to catch the fish. The controversial idea attracts an investor, whose backing leads to dramatic changes for Karen, Isabelle, and the family company. Berman explores big philosophical questions about the ethical relationship between people and animals. But there are no sermons here, just a hymn to the sacred connection among all species.
— Abbe Wright