The publisher describes Craig Alan Johnson's, Wave Watcher as "A thoughtful and beautifully written young-adult novel about a boy growing up and dealing with a tragic event that shapes his life and understanding of the world."
Booksellers may categorize it as juvenile fiction, maybe to be placed with social issues, or death and dying, but this is not a book that falls easily into any category. Sure, the protagonist is young, and his journal entries do encompass a coming of age, but his experience is very much broader than most of us think children can understand. (We are wrong, of course.) Making space on bookstore shelves, however, requires labeling, and I'm hoping that its placement does not prevent adult readers from finding this amazing book.
Wave Watcher is written as excerpts from a journal by 12 year old Ray, who had begun journaling at his father's suggestion as a way to help him sleep at nights instead of lying in bed thinking of answers to mostly unanswerable questions. He has not written anything for a year, however, until this night when, "I can't sleep. I have too many thoughts. I need to write them down. Dad's idea about the night journal is wonderful, except it's having the reverse effect. The notebook has me thinking more."
The reader doesn't mind at all, because by page 38, whence this quote, Ray's thoughts have traced some very basic life issues with simplicity and insight, not to mention awe and humor. I am enchanted by his descriptions of the beaches where he lives in Brazil, the quirky family members who shape his life, and his ongoing struggle to make sense of the patterns he thinks he can see. "It was almost a year ago that I sat in my father's lap trying to explain the waves to him," he starts this new journal on the eve of the first anniversary of that day which changed everything. (Spoiler here: we don't actually find out for sure what that was until the end of the book.)
The voice of 12 year old Ray is clear and firm, and his family will be familiar to Bahá'ís, but others may find it a challenge to follow the variety of languages, cultures and countries he takes for granted. Because the Bahá'í Faith embraces all people as part of one human family and the whole planet as one homeland, Bahá'í communities tend to be extremely diverse. It is not uncommon for children to be multi-lingual, to have roots in several cultures, and to have lived in more than one country. They will certainly have interacted with a wide range of humanity and been exposed to viewpoints beyond those narrowly defined by their neighborhoods.
And yet, this is not an overtly religious book. The reader mostly doesn't know who believes what by name, since Ray doesn't label people that way. His life and the people in it are taken as a given. They are what they are. Ray explains those people and events for whom and which he needed understanding, sharing in his journal the meaning and patterns that he has worked out for himself. Readers are enriched.
Ray's story resonated deeply, but I wonder if part of that has to do with my age. (I was not precocious as a child and it has taken me a long time to learn much of anything important about life!) This boy is more widely read than most adults I know, and quotes effortlessly (and without explanation) from literary classics, religious and philosophical texts, children's authors, even Shakespeare and Broadway plays, to support his observations. His world is peopled by those real and imaginary protagonists whose lives he mines for ideas he can use to make sense of things he sees and that happen to him.
Wave Watcher is a book to read all in one ecstatic gulp, or many short delicious sips. It's going on my favorites shelf because I know I'll read it more than once.
Wave Watcher is presently only available from the US Bahá'í Publishing Trust. ISBN 978-1-61851-046-4
**I am not affiliated with the publishers, and the book was my own purchase.