One With the Waves by Vezna Andrews #ARC #BookReview #1980sFiction

Can surfing change your life? For Ellie, it most certainly does. Vezna Andrews’ debut novel is set in 1980s Southern California, where fifteen-year-old Ellie discovers herself through her love of surfing. Born and raised in New York City, Ellie’s world is turned upside down when her father unexpectedly dies and her mother sends her to Manhattan Beach, California to live with her aunt and uncle.

Ellie’s new home is a sharp contrast to the loft in New York City’s garment district where she grew up. Heartbroken about her dad, and worried about her mom, who drinks too much, Ellie doesn’t fit in with the preppie girls at her new Southern California school, who eventually gang up on and bully her. Thankfully, with the encouragement of her aunt and uncle, she discovers surfing, which becomes her passion and her refuge.

While surfing California’s wild coast, Ellie experiences surfing’s spiritual, healing qualities, including magical experiences with wild dolphins, whales, and sea lions. Eventually, Ellie finds a group of like-minded friends, develops a crush on fellow surfer Nick, and grows extremely close to her Aunt Jen, Uncle Charlie, and their community of surfers. Through surfing, Ellie develops the confidence and strength needed to navigate her own path in life—surfing literally saves her, and changes her relationship with her mother forever.

One With the Waves (Amazon US) (Amazon UK)

I’m not quite sure why I requested this young adult book from NetGalley and Santa Monica Press, but I imagine it had something to do with the fact that Ellie is a teenager whose father dies, and I was a teenager when my father died. I decided to revisit those feelings by reading this book. I received this book in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed are my own.

Ellie is lost in her grief and not getting any help from her mother, who has taken to drink as a coping mechanism. She also realizes she can’t handle Ellie and take care of her, so she ships her from New York City to Manhattan Beach, California, where her younger sister and husband live. When she gets there, her aunt and uncle slowly teach her how to surf, and it’s a cathartic experience.

I have a feeling the book was set in 1983 was it was pre-home computer/cell phone/internet days, which makes it harder to get ahold of someone. There are frequent mentions of the music of the time and a song list at the end of the book. There’s also a lot of cheesy lingo that’s used repeatedly throughout the book that got old quick. I lived through that time, and we didn’t constantly talk like valley girls. The preppie girls who have nothing better to do than pick on an outsider are very real, however.

I spent most of the book trying to figure out the theme. Was it growing up after the loss of a parent? Or was it coping with a mother who shut down and had become an alcoholic? Was it the ability to make new friends when your life is turned upside down and you move across the country? Or was it about finding one’s passion while still finding oneself? I was never quite sure, and I felt the book was uneven because of it.

If you know nothing about surfing, you will learn a lot about it while reading this book. My eyes kind of glazed over half the time when discussing moves and types of waves, and I feel like the importance of surfing for Ellie could be explained without getting into the minutiae of surfing lingo.

There were some good parts to this book, and for a teen that’s going through a hard time, this might strike a chord, but for me, ultimately it was a bust.

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