Karen Hesse’s The Music of Dolphins, published in 1996, tells the story of Mila, a feral child raised by dolphins and rehabilitated by humans. Told in first-person narration from Mila’s point of view, the story begins in a hesitant, halting voice, written with large print and short sentences, slowly progressing to a more confident, flowing narration with complex syntax as Mila becomes comfortable with human language.
Mila is discovered by humans on an island near Cuba. She has been living with dolphins ever since her plane crashed when she was a young girl. When she is first found, Mila does not speak any human language, and only makes dolphin sounds. She is taken to a special rehabilitation center for undersocialized children who do not have language skills.
Under the tutelage of her doctors, Sandy and Dr. Beck, Mila learns to speak and act more like a human. She misses her dolphin family but believes that once she “makes progress” and learns human ways, the doctors will let her return to the sea.
Living in the house with her is another feral child, Shay. Severely abused and neglected, Shay never developed language skills because she was kept locked in a dark room. For a while, Shay seems to progress, speaking a limited vocabulary and laughing and playing with Mila. However, Shay soon regresses and shuts down into herself, while Mila continues to learn language and finds a deep love and connection to music.
Mila’s longing for her dolphin family and home begins to overwhelm her; she longs to leave the human world that she begins to see as a prison. The only person that seems to understand her is Justin, Dr. Beck’s son, who Mila thinks would make a good mate, if only he were a dolphin. Homesick and depressed, Mila regresses, losing her facility with human language from lack of interest. The format of the book changes, the font growing larger and sentences becoming shorter as Mila struggles to return to the dolphins.
In the end, this beautiful and poignant novel proves that family and home can come in all forms, as Mila returns to the sea to live freely with her dolphin family.