This is a review of the 2010 Young Adult fiction book 'Distant Waves' by Suzanne Weyn. I was bought it as a birthday present and I was immediately intrigued by the front cover which depicted an old fashioned wedding dress and bouquet floating underwater. Upon reading the synopsis, it promised a story about 'the ship of dreams' also known in history as the Titanic.
The book begins in 1914 in Nova Scotia 1914 described as a tale of survival from someone who has a story to tell and must record it all. Then within a page a new chapter jumps to 1898 New York where a very young Jane is witnessing her mother holding a séance in one of her client's homes. It is one of Jane's earliest memories, followed by a strange earthquake where they are saved by a mad inventor and scientist discoverer of electricity Nikola Tesla. From there she travels with her mother and sisters to a small village called Spirit Vale which is the home of mediums, fortune tellers and spiritualists. Her mother fits right in and earns a living for the family whilst the daughters plot their escape from the quiet and sleepy town. The last few chapters of the book cover their amazing journey on the Titanic and the chilling predictions of the spiritualist crowd also play out their fate.
Although the book is sold as a Titanic story, this really doesn't feature until the end. What is more interesting is the way that famous characters in addition to Tesla and his competitors Edison and eve Houdini and Arthur Conan Doyle are referred to in the book. Jane hopes to become a renowned journalist and is determined to write about interesting and ground breaking subjects and she is determined on her quest to find her stories.
The sisters are an interesting bunch. From Mimi, the eldest who wants to improve her lot in life and escape Spirit Vale, to the twin who seem to have a unique psychic ability and Jane herself who is rather plane to the youngest, Blythe, their mother really has her hands full but seems distracted at times. None of them seem to miss or mourn their deceased father and work as an independent band of women. The bond between the sisters is great, enough that the twins and Jane are prepared to follow Mimi and Blythe onto a ship that they believe is going to hit an iceberg and sink.
Balancing out the spiritualism is a lot of reference to science, especially through Jane's relationship with Tesla and his assistant Thad. Jane learns a lot from Thad who probably says far too much in the presence of spies and sabotage attempts whilst on board the Titanic.
There is a small part of the book devoted to love and happiness. Certainly for Mimi who is determined to marry yet worries about her lineage and telling her fiancé, they end up betrothed hence the front cover picture. Even more touching is the slow burning relationship between Jane and Thad who have an immediate connection when they meet but Thad holds off when he finds out she is only 16 despite he himself being only 20.
For a YA book, this really was a great read and drew me in to the world of spiritualism and science. It was honest about the spiritualist movement and its fakers and trickery yet had an underlying current of truth and possibility. The pages where the family are on board the Titanic are really engaging and the ship described in great detail. Tesla's inventions are weird and zany from earthquake machines to time machines and this is reflected in Jane's reading material of 'the Time machine' and her obsession with Sherlock Holmes so when she meets the author in person at her mother's spiritualist conference she really is quite blown away. There are so many points of interest in the book, it just reflects the times and how people were just getting used to telephones, motor cars and it was just a case of believing in the next invention and finding investors, anything seemed possible at those times.
I found this book hugely enjoyable, it was fast paced and did not drag on, that's what I like about YA fiction, it's very to the point. This was not overly complex yet it still held my interest and despite knowing exactly what was going to happen on that fateful night on board the Titanic you couldn't help but hope that all the characters in the book would be saved. My only criticism of the book would be that perhaps the author gained a lot of her Titanic insight from watching the film although it may be unfair of me to insinuate this.