Teenage chaos crashes like a wave

Novel ex­plores tragedy of young peo­ple’s de­ci­sions

Calgary Herald - Calgary Herald New Condos - - Weekend Life - CAN­DACE FER­TILE

Jeff Beamish Oolichan Books

In his de­but novel, Sneaker Wave, Van­cou­ver jour­nal­ist Jeff Beamish peels back lay­ers of teenage chaos to show the tragedy that en­sues when young peo­ple make ter­ri­ble de­ci­sions.

Be­ing 17 can be tough, and Beamish hurls a great deal at Brady Joseph, who lives in a small town on the Wash­ing­ton state coast. The deck is stacked against Brady and his two friends, Sam and Luke. When he is five, Brady wit­nesses his father’s sui­cide and tries to tell peo­ple that it was an ac­ci­dent.

Fast for­ward 12 years in an aban­doned house full of drunk and stoned teenagers to an­other tragedy, which Brady again tries to say is an ac­ci­dent. The three boys and Sarah, Brady’s trou­bled and ma­nip­u­la­tive girl­friend, band to­gether in an at­tempt to pro­tect them­selves af­ter neigh­bour Tom Opal, who com­plains about the party, ends up dead.

Beamish ably shows how con­fused young peo­ple can be. Brady is a thought­ful guy who tries to see his way out of the mess, but his lim­ited prospects and peer pres­sure don’t help. And none of the three boys has a par­ent he can con­fide in. Brady’s mother loves him but isn’t the most re­spon­si­ble per­son. Sam’s par­ents are Je­ho­vah’s Wit­nesses and while he lives with them, he tends to steer clear of fam­ily life. Luke’s fam­ily sit­u­a­tion is the worst, and he copes with vi­o­lence.

One strength of the novel is that it doesn’t blame in­ef­fec­tual par­ents or so­cial class for the dis­as­ters of the chil­dren. Ob­vi­ously, lousy par­ents don’t help, but Sarah comes from a pros­per­ous fam­ily. And her par­ents try to do what­ever they can, although noth­ing works.

Sex, drugs and al­co­hol are fee­ble Band-Aids for the pain of these teenagers be­fore Opal’s death; and af­ter­ward, noth­ing re­ally works. The novel shows how these four try to go on with their lives while liv­ing un­der a storm cloud of sus­pi­cion.

For much of the novel, Beamish ef­fec­tively main­tains sus­pense about what re­ally hap­pened the night tragedy strikes Opal. But as their lives de­cay, the in­tense rot be­gun that night works its way to the sur­face.

The Sneaker Wave works smoothly as a sym­bol. The huge un­ex­pected wave that crashes on the shore, po­ten­tially drag­ging some­one out to sea, is like the mo­ment of the bad choice. It’s easy to see how teenagers get caught in their own web of de­ceit, and then how they pay for it for years.

The beau­ti­ful land­scape of the Pa­cific North­west is cen­tral to the novel. Brady’s father jumps off a bridge, and Brady likes to jump off a cliff. Brady’s play­ful jumps into the ocean not only mir­ror his father’s sui­cide, but also demon­strate his de­sire for pu­rifi­ca­tion.

The guilt the four teens bear, due to the bur­den of se­crecy, snakes through their lives re­lent­lessly. And how it all plays out makes sense. Beamish han­dles his ma­te­rial ef­fec­tively and sen­si­tively.

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Sneaker Wave

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