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Vendela Vida’s latest novel “We Run the Tides” follows Eulabee, an eighth-grader attending a private all-girls school in San Francisco, whose friendships and life get turned upside down after her friends, Julia and Maria Fabiola, report having been flashed while the three of them were walking to school — an event that Eulabee claims never happened. Exiled from her friend group, Eulabee begins the entrance into young adulthood by herself, without anyone to support or guide her. When Maria Fabiola goes missing shortly after these events, Eulabee finds herself unsure of who, if anyone, to trust.
“We Run The Tides” is, at its core, a coming-of-age story, and in many ways stays true to the genre. There’s the first crush, the cliques, the anxiety over bras, and even — in a moment reminiscent of books like “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret” — the first period in all its horribleness. “I was betrayed by my femininity,” Eulabee remarks, after the fact.
The story does not treat “coming-of-age” simply as an awkward journey, nor as an experience of gaining selfhood as many other novels do. Rather, the book views this process as a perilous one, portraying the growth into womanhood and adulthood as entering a dangerous new world full of sexual misconduct, kidnappings, and the real possibility of death.
What makes “We Run the Tides” successful, however, is that it doesn’t just focus on how dangerous life is for the girls, but instead shows how the existence of these dangers, even on the outskirts of their lives, shapes their everyday relationships. Throughout the book, Eulabee is harassed, humiliated, and worse by men. Without friends or support, Eulabee finds herself almost dependent on these interactions, even in their painfulness. “I want the connection again,” Eulabee narrates during a particularly gut-wrenching scene where a boy humiliates her. The book thus delivers a striking depiction of the way that sexual misconduct can be not only destructive but confusing for young girls, and how the loneliness of pubescence is made only worse as much of the attention and connection that these girls are receiving is inappropriate.
Complicating this narrative is the way “We Run The Tides” focuses on the lies told by Eulabee and her friends, especially the more despicable lies. At the end of the book, which takes place when the girls are in their 50s, and Eulabee reveals that a particular lie about sexual harassment told by her and Maria Fabiola has stayed with her for much longer than any of the actual sexual harassment the girls faced. These lies come to take center stage, thus placing the reader in the same state of confusion faced by its main characters.
Eulabee’s disconnected narrative voice adds to this sense of confusion. The story is told in the present tense, but there is almost a nostalgia to the way Eulabee talks about the events of the book, focusing more on setting and place than the feelings of the characters involved.
The downside of this distanced tone is that many of the characters, outside of Eulabee and Maria Fabiola, seem underdeveloped, as Eulabee fails to describe much more than their appearance. Furthermore, the story’s focus on the possibility of danger (rather than danger itself) sometimes results in a loss of momentum.
In the saturated field of coming-of-age novels, “We Run The Tides” successfully brings a new voice to the genre focusing on the dangers facing young women in a way that seeks to understand and empathize with them, rather than just position them as victims.
—Staff writer Mira S. Alpers can be reached at email@example.com.
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