Debut author Tamara Valentine's What the Waves Know tells the story of a young woman's quest to recover her past and find herself after an incident when she was six years old robbed her of her voice. The novel went on sale earlier this year to great praise: Kirkus Reviews called it, "A novel rich in mythology and childhood secrets.... This dreamy coming-of-age mystery unfolds in tantalizing waves with keen insight and lush prose," while Booklist said, "With the sass of Fannie Flagg and the subtle magic of Alice Hoffman, this short but powerful book should find readers of many generations." Tamara has stopped by LLF today to share a behind-the-scenes look at What the Waves Know and her own history with libraries.
Where I come from people aren’t born—they sprout. I grew up traipsing through thousands of acres of farmland, barefoot and bareback, astride a buckskin quarter horse in the heart of apple country in upstate New York.
A person can only watch apples grown for so long before it loses its entertainment value, so those who settled the region became skilled story builders, crafting such a rich array of folk religions that by the time the Erie Canal made it to town filled to the brim with barges and missionaries, there was nobody left to convert. My town is home to Mormonism, the Millerites, the Fox sisters’ spiritualists, the Publik Universalists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Shakers, the Oneida Society, an active Iroquois nation, thriving Amish and Mennonite communities—and the list goes on. It is the reason I integrated a plethora of lore from diverse traditions in What the Waves Know.
While I recall many of the churches and sacred plots scattered throughout town, my clearest memory is of a small brick building tucked in the shadows of the looming steeples on Main Street—the Palmyra Kings Daughters Free Library. As soon as I was old enough to walk there on my own, I took to disappearing into the cannons of literature and losing myself in works like To Kill a Mockingbird, Lord of the Flies, Catcher in the Rye, Of Mice and Men, I Know why the Caged Bird Sings, and Beloved. It was there in the musty pages of classics that the full force of the power of stories began to settle in. They were tales that had the ability to drive you to your knees, if not into therapy, on the other side of the last page—and I began to understand this strange little town that had built itself on the back of stories.
In his research on artificial intelligence, Roger Schank discovered that the human brain experiences storytelling and understanding [as] functionally the same thing. We respond to story in much the same way we do an actual memory. So, for me, the fact that the main character in What the Waves Know, Iz, must untangle herself from the stories of others to find the truth, isn’t really so much a feat of fiction as it is a reflection of what we all have to do as we write the story of our own lives in a way that embraces the truth of ourselves.
Thanks, Tamara! Make sure to check out this compelling and elegant coming-of-age novel today.