CM . . .
. Volume XV Number 5. . . .October 24, 2008
At 13, Delia is forced to cope with a horrible car accident that left her scarred, and after which her mother left the family to find spiritual guidance in India. In How to Make a Wave, Lisa Hurst-Archer moves through the emotional journey of Delia which is both a journey to discover the truth about her family and to move from being a child to a woman in the eyes of loved ones. Delia is ready for the truth, but she must gather information one piece at a time and construct her own understanding of her parents before she is at last given the answers she seeks. Intertwined in this slow discovery are ruminations on spirituality through Delia and her mother as they struggle to understand the larger questions of life from opposite sides of the world.
A descriptive writing style, which is infused throughout the whole book, may make the story a bit slow moving for some younger readers. The slow pacing of the novel helps to create a thoughtful experience while reading the book, so that the reader has time to digest or consider the more spiritual or emotional elements. This book is very much meant to make the reader contemplate the nature of the universe and our role as agents in our own life, and, in this case, how we deal with our own pain and burdens.
In one of the chapters, readers enter the world of Delia's mother, Cheryl, or Sagarika meaning wave or born of the ocean in India. While Delia's life is firmly grounded in Calgary, the descriptions and life of Sagarika are generalized in the large country of India without the names of places or geographical markers. The lack of specificity serves to generalize and exoticize India and its inhabitants by the fact that the massive diversity inherent in this country is nonexistent in the novel. The appearance of Indian women is described as affected by the "drudgery of work" and bearing the "mark of physical burdens," which unabashedly makes assumptions of the life of Indian women as characterized by hardship and of the definition of beauty.
The Indian people bathe in the "polluted" river with a belief that it has healing qualities, and Hurst-Archer again imposes an attitude of cultural superiority in explaining that they are "oblivious to the dark sludge floating like menacing tentacles." I assume she is describing the Ganges River as Sagarika prays to Shiva who, in Hindu beliefs, brought this river to earth, a river that holds great religious significance for many people. By attributing their religious beliefs to being "oblivious" or unaware of the so-called true nature of the river, Hurst-Archer establishes an ideology that the Western worldview is better than the Other that she has created. Hurst-Archer does not locate information in any detail while in India, so, in that sense, it could be argued that she does not trivialize the powers of a specific spiritual river or religion, and yet because of this generalization there is a dismissal of the beliefs of the people for whom she intends to represent. Eco-friendly writing is needed more and more, but putting down a people, religion, and culture is not the first step to creating a better world.
There is no endearing or redeeming quality given to the Indian people, for whom even the cooking has a "stench" rather than smell. Whether intentional or not, this chapter of the book creates a picture of Indians as the exotic Other, rather than creating diversity and depth in Indian culture and giving respect to Hinduism and beliefs in the powers of particular rivers or natural environments.
How to Make a Wave is the first book I've read for young adults that engages the reader in a quest for spiritual understanding. Hurst-Archer successfully shows the paradigm shift in Delia's beliefs about herself, the world, and the greater questions about the universe. I felt that the representation of Indian people was flawed by the language suggesting that Cheryl, or Sagarika, was from a superior culture, which was an unfortunate and unnecessary part of the book. While this part only made up one chapter of the book, I would hope that no youth would learn about India through this kind of description. For this reason, I have recommended this book with reservations in the hope that this particular chapter is used by educators with critical attention.
Recommended with reservations.
Brianne Grant is a student in the Master of Arts in Children's Literature at the University of British Columbia, and Executive Councillor-West for IBBY Canada.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.