May 25, 2018

Ebb & Flow

Written by Heather Smith
Kids Can Press
232 pp.
Ages 9-12
April 2018

If you've been reading this blog for a number of years, you'll know what a fan I am of novels in verse. These are stories told in free verse form and the authors who do it well are highly accomplished at writing with impact and few words.  I can now add author Heather Smith to that very short list of accomplished writers of novels in verse.  And she is extraordinary.

Ebb & Flow is the story of twelve-year-old Jett who has been sent to spend the summer with his Grandma Jo. Though he has been sent to stay with her because of a troublesome year, Jett is happy to see Grandma, having many positive memories about her before his move with his mother to the mainland.
I remembered
hugs that were big for her size,
her arms growing
like expandable straws. (pg. 9)
Wordplay is the dialogue between the two who love talking in puns, with Grandma telling her story as if she were a character in a series of anecdotes.  Sadly, because of the mistakes he made over the past year, Jett sees himself as the villain of his stories, deserving of little goodness, including his grandmother's love. Even away from the negative influence of Junior Dawson, a bully and angry classmate, with whom Jett teamed up, the boy cannot shake the bad thoughts about people and the anger he harbours about his own actions.  

In titled chapters of only one or two page verses, Heather Smith subtly reveals Jett's history and the events that led to his relocation for the summer.  In fact, Jett's character development is so subtle that the change in Jett from angry and confused boy to responsive and responsible is as inconspicuous as the tides that come in and go out.


Why can't things just stay the same?

Because life is like the tides.
In, out.
Back, forth.
Push, pull.
High, low.
You just have to go with the flow, you know?

(pg. 177)
The reader will sense Jett's progression in increments, as slow as when he and Grandma Jo creep along the beach looking for sea glass, and then he's there, asking to visit his father and telling his own story to his grandmother.

Ebb & Flow may refer to Jett's responses to the ever-changing circumstances that impact him, including his own choices and mistakes, but the book makes a powerful statement about resiliency and the power to ride the tidal motion of life. Sometimes you need a little help, like Jett gets from Grandma Jo who never pushes her grandson to come to an epiphany, though she helps him get there with her love and guidance. Ebb & Flow makes it clear that, with forgiveness to others and self, people and relationships can be salvaged and, like sea glass, taken from sharp edges to soft gemstones.
In Grandma's hand,
five pieces of sea glass –
two white, two green,
one red.

I didn't find anything, I said.

You will.
(pg. 26)

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