In Tamara Valentine’s debut novel, What the Waves Know (February 2016), everything changed for Izabella Haywood when she was six. Her father, Ansel, a curious, unpredictable man, abandoned the family and Izabella is certain she is to blame. For reasons cloaked in mystery and amnesia, Izabella’s ability to speak left with her father.
After her father’s disappearance, Izabella fears losing her mother yet can’t stop pushing her away. Now fourteen and beginning to show the sparks of adolescence, her mother, Zorrie, reluctantly takes her back to tiny Tillings Island, the location of her father’s disappearance, to try to break through her daughter’s silence. Izabella begins a quest to understand her father’s curious ways as well as where he’s gone, something everyone on the island seems to know but her.
As the memories of that terrible day eight years earlier dribble back and Izabella’s recalcitrant voice struggles to return, she wonders if she’s as crazy as her father. Her free-spirited grandmother arrives and brings a sense of freedom Izabella seeks plus the grounding Zorrie needs.
Valentine uses myth to inform many of her characters’ choices. Native American myth called to Izabella’s father, leading him on quests that fractured the family. The various doctors Zorrie has inflicted on Izabella have theories and stories of their own; they mean little to Izabella. But the myth of the sea witch, Yemaya, protector of Tillings Island, becomes Izabella’s touchstone, a way for her to understand her loss.
There are the stories we heard growing up, and then the truth we find later in life. Valentine takes us on a lovely journey through a child’s understanding of tragedy. The prose is gentle, reminiscent of Sue Monk Kidd. Fans of general fiction will enjoy this book. Older readers of YA, not offended by a bit of salty language, will enjoy it as well.
Reviewed by Carol Malkin
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