What the Waves Know: A Novel

What the Waves Know: A Novel

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by Tamara Valentine

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In the tradition of Sue Monk Kidd and Beth Hoffman comes a compelling debut novel about a young woman's quest to find herself—and her voice—on the island where she lost both.

The tiny state of Rhode Island is home to even tinier Tillings Island—which witnessed the biggest event of Izabella Rae Haywood's life. For it was there, on


In the tradition of Sue Monk Kidd and Beth Hoffman comes a compelling debut novel about a young woman's quest to find herself—and her voice—on the island where she lost both.

The tiny state of Rhode Island is home to even tinier Tillings Island—which witnessed the biggest event of Izabella Rae Haywood's life. For it was there, on Iz's sixth birthday, that her father left...and took her voice with him.

Eight years later in the summer of 1974, Iz’s mother is through with social workers, psychiatrists and her daughter's silence. In one last attempt to return Iz’s voice, the motley pair board the ferry to Tillings in hopes that the journey will help Izabella heal herself by piecing together splintered memories of the day her words fled.

But heartbreak is a difficult puzzle to solve, and everyone in Tillings seems to know something Iz does not. Worse, each has an opinion about Izabella's dreamer of a father, the undercurrents of whose actions have spun so many lives off course.

Now, as the island's annual Yemayá festival prepares to celebrate the ties that bind mothers to children, lovers to each other, and humankind to the sea, Izabella must unravel the tangled threads of her own history and reclaim a voice gone silent…or risk losing herself—and any chance she may have for a future—to the past.

What the Waves Know is a moving, magical novel that asks us to consider the stories which tell the truth and the stories we tell ourselves.

Editorial Reviews

Romantic Times BOOKclub
“Valentine’s debut novel is a beautiful tale of loss, love and the fortitude of the human spirit.”
USA Today bestselling author Pamela Schoenewaldt
“In this journey of trauma and healing, the walking wounded repair their lives together, their voices shaping a rough chorus that calls us back from darkness to light.”
Christina Meldrum
With poignant language and compelling characters, Tamara Valentine explores voice and silence, creativity and madness, imagination and memory, and the mysteries that imbue our world and our minds. In so doing, Valentine reminds us that to be fully human is to be both a story teller and a story dweller.
New York Times and USA Today bestselling author
“What the Waves Know is a marvelous novel that creates a sense of place so specific you can practically taste the salt spray on the windswept New England beaches.”
Jessica Anya Blau
What the Waves Know is a beautiful, elegant book that dives deep into the heart of childhood, memory and voice. Izabella, our silent protagonist, will surely stay with you for a very long time, as if she were someone you once knew and loved.
With the sass of Fannie Flagg and the subtle magic of Alice Hoffman, this short but powerful book should find readers of many generations.
Library Journal
In this evocative novel, an angry six-year-old Izabella yells at her father for ruining her birthday. He speeds off into the night, never to return. Eight years later, Iz hasn't spoken since, her voice silenced for fear of what else her words may break. She and her mother return to Tillings Island, in the hopes that coming home will help bring Iz back to herself. The problem is, everyone there seems to know the story of her father's disappearance better than she does. It isn't until the town's annual festival honoring a local spirit of the sea that the memories Iz worked so hard to block out as a child start returning. VERDICT Valentine's debut is a well-written, charming book. She writes gracefully about loss and sadness and how time and good people can help to heal the wounds of a hurting child. The author also handles mental illness and the damage it can cause a family with tact and care. Readers will enjoy getting to know Iz, who is smart and canny underneath her quiet exterior, and the family and friends who love her back to herself.—Jennifer Mills, Shorewood-Troy Lib., IL
Kirkus Reviews
In a novel rich in mythology and childhood secrets, a girl searches for her voice in the Rhode Island town where she stopped speaking at age 6. Eight years after her father disappeared on her birthday, Izabella Haywood is still writing on notepads to avoid speaking the truth about what happened. Inside her head we catch glimpses of a creative but troubled man who hunts for fairies late at night, who fights with Izabella's mother constantly, and who ultimately leaves his daughter and wife behind. Viewed through the lens of a child who was too young to understand what she saw that night, the question of why is especially poignant—and the answer is hidden in plain sight. The book is mostly set in the summer of 1974, and its historical details, such as an outdated film title on a marquee, gently place Izabella's memories in a not-too-distant past where missing persons make the nightly news. For Izabella, the truth might still be lying around the house if she knows where to look. On Tillings Island, the locals are preparing for their annual festival to celebrate the African ocean goddess Yemaya, and the loose spirituality that permeates the community echoes the dreamlike quality of Izabella's thoughts. But normalcy beckons to Izabella as she reconnects with Grandma Jo, whose braless joie de vivre presents a cheerful foil to the cold war brewing between Izabella and her mother. The family dog, Luke, also whimpers and nuzzles his way through Izabella's silence with surprising force. When the truth finally emerges, Izabella's heartfelt revelation puts sharply into focus the unspoken terror of being a child in an unpredictable world. This dreamy coming-of-age mystery unfolds in tantalizing waves with keen insight and lush prose.

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.20(w) x 7.90(h) x 1.00(d)

Meet the Author

Tamara Valentine obtained an M.A. with distinction from Middlebury College and has spent the past fourteen years as a professor in the English Department at Johnson & Wales University. Presently, she lives in Kingston, Rhode Island, with her husband and three children. 

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What the Waves Know: A Novel 3.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
CharlotteLynnsReviews More than 1 year ago
What the Waves Know is a different type of story for me. The story is told from Izabella (Iz) voice. It is the story of a 6 year old and a 14 year old. She relives the worst time in her life when her father leaves her and she stops speaking as she saw it through 6 year old eyes. That part of the story shows how what a child perceives happening is not always the whole story. Then it tells the current story and how at 14 she has not been able to move past what she feels in her fault. In those 8 years she has not spoken a word. She feels like her voice left her when her father walked out the door. I felt like this is a sad story. Imagine the grief and stress that a 6 year old can put on themselves when they feel at fault for an adult leaving. It was heart breaking to see her struggle with life when it should have been a carefree and easy existence. Because of this life changing event she has no friends, she is home schooled, called names, and struggles with her relationship with her mother. It was also uplifting to see how she works through her struggles and come out on top. This is a story about a girl, who thought she knew what happen, coming to terms with the truth of her father’s abandonment. The mother and grandmother also had an interesting relationship. I think it is a typical mother daughter relationship for grown women. The grandmother makes her comments and pushes her way into their world while the mother tries to hold on to her own life and make her own decisions. In this case the grandmother was the wise one. She saw that just the mother was always “busy” and was not seeing what was truly happening with Iz. She pushes, inserts her opinion, all for the better of Iz’s relationship with her mother and Iz’s life. I recommend checking out What the Waves Know. Tamara Valentine wrote a great book with amazing characters and a unique storyline.
KrittersRamblings 9 months ago
Check out the full review at Kritters Ramblings A young girl experiences something that at the age of 6 she can't comprehend and because of it, she goes mute for 8 years. Her mother at her wits end decides that maybe they should go back to the island where the event occurred to possibly cure her daughter and find closure for them as a family. And so the story began! I was first interested in this book to see how an author can make a character full and whole without them able to speak their mind without use of words, but she did. From the beginning, I wanted to know why Izabella went mute and what could help her find her words again. I won't spoil the outcome, but I was happily surprised by how she found her words and what made her lose them in the first place.