Your choice of pinpointing the climax scene of Whale Talk may change as you finish reading the book and as you think more about what happens in the last two chapters.
T. J.’s main goal in his senior year has been to make sure that the members of the swim team perform well enough to earn school letter jackets. T. J., Coach Simet, and all of the swimmers have challenged the requirements for Cutter High School athletes who earn these prestigious acknowledgements. The jackets are the prize. A collateral goal for T. J. would be to make star linebacker Mike Barbour look bad in the process. He’s an arrogant bully who needs to be taken down a few pegs. When the fate of the jackets rests on the individual swim contest between Chris Coughlin and Mike Barbour, and Chris wins (in the beginning of chapter 15), this feels like a terrific high point for the reader. It is especially meaningful since Mike has been making fun of Chris all along. Both of the goals have now been reached. Shortly afterward, when the swimmers finally get their jackets—and even T. J. gets one— this seems like the perfect ending to provide closure to the story.
But in true T. J. pushing-it fashion, there has to be more. He gets another chance to embarrass Mike during the city-wide Hoopfest basketball tournament. This time, even though his team beats Mike’s, it’s at the huge expense of losing his father. We readers are quickly dropped from the highest high to the lowest low in a matter of seconds. Is this the climax of the book, then? Does it come in T. J.’s last conversation with his father? John Paul Jones advises his son to avoid seeking revenge. And for once, T. J. listens and allows his anger to dissolve. Does this act mark a personal climax?
The final chapter is titled “Whale Talk.” Here T. J. returns to the site of his father’s worst moment, the one that has haunted him throughout his life. And he unexpectedly meets Kyle and learns that his father has a continuing legacy. A common thread is the focus on whales and the sounds they make, their language. Is this the climax of the book, then? One that is based on resolving John Paul Jones’s crisis, and not T. J.’s? Consider this: Why is the book called Whale Talk and not Swimming for Letters?