What the Waves Know, written by Tamara Valentine, is a novel based around the idea of confronting one’s trauma that, perhaps, has been buried deep in the psyche for far too long. Izabella Rae Haywood – better known as Iz – no longer speaks. It’s not that she can’t, but ever since the disappearance of her father when she was young, Iz cannot muster the will to verbally communicate. After some trouble at school, Iz’s mother uproots their family and moves them out to Tillings Island – a place where Iz spent a great deal of her childhood. She is introduced to a cast of new, but familiar, faces who begin to play key parts in her life. The longer the Haywood’s stay, the more the memories flood back to Iz. Will the flashes of her past not only bring her closer to her mother, but help her finally regain her voice and let go of grief?
As a whole, What the Waves Know makes for a fairly enjoyable read. The writing is lovely and the sentiment is consistent. Readers will find themselves rooting for Iz’s healing process throughout the novel. The story does feel a bit vague at times, and near the start of the book it can be hard to follow. Once the family reaches Tillings Island, the story picks up. It also takes a while for the characters to really stick in the reader’s mind. They will, eventually, but some warming up is certainly necessary.
The biggest critique for this book is the ending. There is a big lead up to the story’s climax, which doesn’t necessarily fall flat on its face, but the ending is fairly predictable and doesn’t pack the desired “oomph” that the author was surely going for. In a book like this, landing a gut punch for the ending is important, especially when doing the big, dramatic reveal. While Valentine hits many of the right notes in her wrap up, it’s not quite to the level readers might have their expectations set at.
All that being said, the writing in What the Waves Know really is quite wonderful. Beautiful descriptions litter the text, feeling almost poetic at times. Valentine muses on topics such as darkness and abandonment with such grace and ease. Perhaps one of the most interesting pieces of text in the novel occurs right at the beginning:
…by my fifth birthday I answered simply to “Be” when my father caught me up in a hug, and “Iz” when my mother did not. In no less than five shorts years I had been whittled down to the weakest forms of “to be” in the English language. It is a fact I have spent a good amount of time considering.
While the characters don’t quite “wow” the reader at their initial introductions, all of them are likable and truly do cement themselves into the reader’s mind as the story progresses. The cast brims with life and adds a great energy to the book – especially Iz’s grandmother and their neighbor, Remy. The writing is also quite funny at times, drawing on a sense of humor that women share among themselves.
Though not a perfect story, What the Waves Know is a lighthearted, warm tale about the coming together of women, as well as drawing strength from one another, and the power that memory holds over personal trauma – a worthy read.
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