Sharp Phin

AMPHIBIAN by Carla Gunn (Coach House), 220 pages,.

AMPHIBIAN by Carla Gunn (Coach House), 220 pages, $19.95 paper. Rating: NNNN

Nine-year-old Phineas Walsh, the narrator of Carla Gunn’s Amphibian, makes you feel like you’ve been cornered on the playground by a sensitive and intelligent young boy who’s going to tell you his observations about the world. Hilarious and affecting, he’s something special.


He’s racked with anxiety over the state of the planet and animal welfare – so much so that he can’t sleep. He’s a walking encyclopedia of facts and figures regarding the natural world, and Gunn had fun with both the real and imagined data he presents.

Phin comes to life as an intelligent observer without seeming to think or speak like an adult. With authentic childlike confusion, he grapples with the complexities and hypocrisies of the adult world and the often idiotic inequalities inherent in global capitalism, all the while outwitting and baffling his therapists and teachers.

He’s certain that humans are the real enemy of the earth’s survival, but he’s not so sure why adults are so crazy and unreliable, or how to beat a schoolyard bully and why the teacher insists on imprisoning an Australian tree frog in the classroom.

The tree frog in jail becomes the focus of Phin’s worries, and hijinks ensue.

Phin’s mother has no idea what to do with him – she tries to introduce the concept of propaganda and the dangers of black-and-white thinking – but it’s his gentle grandmother who comes through when no one else can, helping him believe that good people can make a difference in the end.

Amphibian is a sweet and smart book for optimists of any age, and Phin the perfect eco hero for intelligent readers everywhere.

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