One of the problems I had with Happiness Is Wasted On Me was the question of how to make a coming-of-age novel sufficiently different from the rest. If we’re honest, we have to face the fact that all coming-of-age novels are similarly built. The protagonist struggles against life, valiantly battling through their teen years, facing off against all the minor and major injustices visited upon them by life. They fall in love, fall out of love, lose their virginity, grow up. It’s a familiar story that everyone knows because everyone lived it at some point. Every adult has been through that, so they understand it. Straight or gay, it’s the same story with slight alterations. When I wrote Happiness Is Wasted On Me, I tried to tell a different story that was also distantly related. With the protagonist being an aromantic asexual, that immediately eliminates intimate relationships from his story. Honestly, I tried to write with as much honesty as possible. That’s probably the best way to tackle the genre, and though I’m no expert, you can quickly tell what sort of coming-of-age story you’re getting into when you open the cover of the book. Usually, it can only be variations on a theme.
We Run The Tides by Vendela Vida isn’t one of those books. Nothing is as obvious about it as you might believ. It’s a text tapestry where every line feels precise, each word carefully considered, and the story is so bleakly funny that it guilt-trips you into stifling your laughter. Most importantly, it feels very real. Somehow, I can sense the author’s life peeking through, mixing with the fiction. The setting is lovingly rendered enough that I felt like I’d visited San Francisco in the ’80s, which is great because I don’t have a passport, and I’m terrified of getting on a plane. The book tells the story of friends who turn on each other after one of them stands her ground against the others. Eulabee is a thirteen-year-old individualist and the protagonist of the story, yet she isn’t completely at the centre of the novel. Her friend turned enemy Maria Fabiola is bewitching to everyone who come across her, sometimes to their own ruin. Then, she goes missing.
I’m saying nothing else about the plot. Read it and find out what happens next.
Something important to consider is that for a book set in the past, it isn’t overly preoccupied with nostalgia. There’s a coda that throws the plot forward to the present times, which I’ve seen before and is a plot device that works as often as it doesn’t. Here, it not only works, but somehow feels absolutely necessary to complete Eulabee’s story. The last chapter has something important to say about everything that happened from the first page onwards. It gives clarity.
If you read only one coming-of-age novel this year, then you’re daft. There are lots out there right now, all similar in many ways, but with something to say about life, sometimes your own life. If you are going to read these books, make We Run The Tides one of them.