To break the reading slump I was in I decided to throw it back to a classic novel, one of my favorite books when I was in the 5th grade, Distant Waves. None of you have probably ever heard about it because I have always been the type to like things that no one else likes, and books are of course no exception. But as a kid, this book was everything. I thought it was so cool, and while the details of the book are now foggy in my brain, what I do remember was that I couldn't put this book down when I read it for the first time. So I decided to reread it, because the magic that was there in the 5th grade had to still be there now, right? Wrong.
This book was pretty awful. I found myself rolling my eyes and physically cringing, and yet I couldn't stop reading. Maybe I kept it up because I just wanted to get it over with, or because I felt some weird loyalty to this book that I used to love so much. But it got me thinking, just what was it that 5th grade Grace loved about this book so much??
I think it all boils down to the story, which proves that no matter how awful the writing, readers will stick around for a plot that is truly compelling. Distant Waves is about a group of sisters whose mother is medium, aka a person who speaks to ghosts. It takes place in the early 1900s, and the sisters all eventually find their way onto the Titanic where they meet the many famous, real passengers on board. There is plenty of mysterious psychic predictions about the sinking of the ship and Nikolai Tesla, the famous inventor, also plays a key part in the story. All these things are extremely unique, and unlike any other book I had ever read and still have ever read. The plot was the thing that kept modern day Grace slightly interested in reading, but to 5th grade Grace, that plot was absolutely mind blowing. What 5th grader doesn't like the Titanic and ghosts? But combining the two?!?! It was an artistic decision that was bound to make the book a huge success with any inquisitive, odd child that picked it up.
But what else did 5th grade Grace like about the story? Surely, since this book has such a prominent place in my childhood memories, there had to be something beyond just a compelling story. I think the inclusion of the real life characters was another big factor. I spent almost as much time googling the various names that appeared in the novel as I did actually reading the book. In fact, it was this book that sparked my lifelong obsession and loyalty to Tesla the inventor. Even as an adult I put the book down because I read in Distant Waves that Astor's dog was on board the Titanic and I had the burning desire to know if the dog survived, which it didn't by the way, and so that sparked a good twenty-minute internet search into the fates of the 12 dogs that were on board the Titanic. Knowing that the fictional book was littered with truths was like a treasure hunt for a 10 year old. Trying to figure out, with the help of the internet, just exactly what was real, and what was fiction was as exciting as reading the book itself. It made the story come alive.
I'm also sure 5th grade Grace was all over the detailed descriptions of the clothes the girls were wearing, descriptions that occurred with every line of dialogue a new character spoke. One could not simply enter a room, they had to, "walk into the grand ballroom wearing an emerald dress with a dropped waist and a square neckline. Along the sleeves were velvet colored buttons, and the bottom of the dress ruffled across the floor, revealing the black toes of satin ballet slippers with every step." Back in the days of adolescence this was considered good writing. Every wattpad fanfiction includes a description of the characters clothes, especially the iconic "Ugg boots, sweatpants, messy bun" combo. But now, as an adult, having to wade through the pointless descriptions of clothes was boring. It only slightly set the historical context of the novel, but honestly the fact that they were on, you know, the Titanic did that more than a description of a pair of shoes ever would.
The pathetic romance that painfully took up a majority of the subplot was also probably alluring to 5th grade Grace. I loved romance, still do, and to a ten-year-old there is nothing more attractive than a man who kisses you for the first time, confesses his love, and then asks you to marry him all in the same afternoon. Its the pinnacle of romance. Now, I have the same reaction to the love story in Distant Waves as I do to Ariel guarding the statue of Prince Eric while saying, "But Daddy I love him!", and that is the same reaction that King Triton had: To smash the statue to pieces with a bolt of underwater lightning as well as everything else my sixteen-year-old daughter holds near and dear.
It was the romance part that I kept getting hung up on. It was just so bad that reading it made me want to put the book down. If there was no romance, if Distant Waves was just a book about a group of sisters who can see ghosts and who meet up with Tesla and ride on the Titanic it would've been great. I would've nominated it for a Pulitzer Prize. But every time this annoying, uptight love interest named Thad walked in with his powder blue tailored suits and light brown hair that was slightly combed back off his forehead I wanted to vomit. The author didn't even seem to like the romance, because all the romantic interactions felt forced and rushed, like she too wanted to get back to the action of trans-dimensional spirit communication and the sinking of the Titanic. Honestly I don't blame her, I wanted to too.
Revisiting an old childhood favorite was very entertaining, despite the book being filled with plenty of pages of stupid, bad writing. But it was nice to see what I loved so dearly as a child, and it was nice to think about what exactly drew me to the book then, what draws it to me now, and what repels me from it as an adult when as a child the book could do no wrong.
What's your favorite book from childhood? I highly suggest you go and reread it, you won't be sorry.
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