For Ava, being 13 years old in 1987 means surfing with her friends, making mixtapes filled with U2 and Bon Jovi songs and reluctantly becoming a volunteer at the Southern California hospital where her mother is an obstetrician. But Ava often feels caught between two identities: Born in the U.S. after her mother began medical school, Ava fumbles through traditional Persian tea services and sometimes experiences anti-Iranian harassment.
Ava’s mother wants her to become a doctor, while Ava’s relationship with her absent father is strained. Ava also can’t seem to stop compulsively checking on little things throughout the day, like whether she’s pulled the right textbooks before walking away from her locker at school. Thrumming beneath all this is Ava’s love for her best friend and fellow surfer, Phoenix, whose Hodgkin lymphoma has returned after years of remission.
Author Diana Farid, a physician, poet and beach enthusiast, fills this novel in verse with vibrant details of Persian cuisine, surfing culture and the ins and outs of the hospital where Ava and her mother work. YA fiction protagonists have trended increasingly older in recent years, so Farid takes a risk in making Ava a younger teen. Yet Ava is as complex a creation as older YA protagonists, and her feelings toward everything from her first choir solo to her friend’s illness are honest, tangled and profound. When asked if she thinks she can stop a metaphorical wave, Ava replies, “No, but I can stay / with the wave. / I can hold on to it.”
Many of the poems that compose Wave are concrete poems, in which typography and on-page design are inextricable from the poetic lines. In one instance, letters that spell out inhale and exhale are spaced so widely that they span the entire page, conveying the big, intentional breaths Ava takes as she dives into a wave with her surfboard. Farid’s word choices are often as meaningful as their design: Water bubbles “tumble tumble / rumble” onomatopoetically, and careful readers will appreciate the many different appearances and articulations of the titular “wave.”
Intricate dark blue line drawings by Kris Goto and quotations from the 13th-century Persian poet Rumi accompany Farid’s text, which ends with the track lists of Ava’s and Phoenix’s mixtapes for each other. Queue them up on your favorite music platform for the perfect soundtrack to this “whirlucent tide / we get to ride.”