Not so long ago Book-It artistic director Jane Jones was an ocean kayaker who didn't like to get in too close to the shoreline because all...

Share story

Not so long ago Book-It artistic director Jane Jones was an ocean kayaker who didn’t like to get in too close to the shoreline because all the scary sea creatures might become visible.

This summer she is planning her kayaking vacation days around the lowest tides of the year.

Why the change?

“That’s all Jim,” she says.

Jim is Jim Lynch, the Olympia-based author of “The Highest Tide,” a coming-of-age novel of 13-year-old Miles O’Malley, a pint-size adolescent with the brain of a marine biologist.

Speaking recently on the phone from Hawaii, where he was vacationing, Lynch says that the coastal waters around Olympia offered him “a perfect setting for a novel. Occasionally weird things washed up.”

That image of strange sea life, coupled with Lynch’s media savvy (he is also a journalist), gave him the idea for the novel.

Published in 2005, “The Highest Tide” was a national best-seller, gathering glowing reviews from around the country. But it is particularly revered in the Northwest by readers who care deeply about the health of the fragile marine ecosystems that make up the Puget Sound.

Now Book-It has adapted Lynch’s story for the stage, a world premiere that ends the 2007-08 season.

When she first read “The Highest Tide,” Jones knew she had a story that could make a smooth transition from page to stage. “I could see [the characters] like Polaroid snapshots.”

Jones decided to do the adaptation herself because she felt she had “a vision for it.” Sticking with the novel’s chronology, Jones chose to follow Miles’ “emotional and consequential arc. Miles learns through this journey he takes with these sea creatures.”

The novel opens with Miles’ discovery of a giant squid — and later, a ragfish — in Puget Sound waters, far from their normal habitats. The incidents make Miles something of a local celebrity, and when he explains the biological mysteries in a TV interview, he says, half in earnest: “Maybe the earth is trying to tell us something.”

This turns out to be something of an understatement when, soon after, Washington state experiences the Nisqually earthquake — the most powerful quake here in half a century.

Lynch has filled his novel with myriad descriptions of sea life that are both beautiful and scientific. In a very true sense, the ocean is a major character in the story, a rather daunting challenge for Jones and her design crew. True to Book-It’s fidelity to a writer’s language, Jones decided not to use lots of multimedia and screen projections to suggest the coastal setting, instead having the actors mime the creatures and let the text carry the wonder and poetry.

Says Jones: “Everything that lived or died would be just Jim’s words.”

For the role of Miles O’Malley — who utters most of those words — Jones settled on Kellan Larson, 14, a Queen Anne resident who had appeared in Book-It’s production of “Plainsong” when he was 12.

Lynch, who said he plans to be in the audience for tonight’s opening, sat in on a rehearsal before his Hawaii trip.

“I thought it was a lot of fun. I was impressed with how well [it was] cast and how talented the people were.”

He also appreciated Jones’ adaptation. “She shaped it while keeping the story intact.”