Review: Nor’ East Swell

Reviewed by Denika Mead

Nor’ East Swell is a tale full of heart, family and surfing and a great read for teens and adults.

A missing father, surfing and a touch of magic: Nor’ East Swell is Hawke’s Bay author Aaron Topp’s young adult thriller and a touching tale about family, friendship and surfing that culminates in a fight for nature during the midst of a cyclone.

It centres around 18-year-old Witi who is convinced that his father is still alive even though he’s been missing for eight years. He believes – like everyone else – that his father abandoned him and his mother. But when he’s surfing, he feels closer to him. Witi has a strong connection to the ocean and is sure he can hear it calling to him.

After school, on the eighth anniversary of his father’s disappearance, he goes surfing with Alana who is “his girlfriend, but not his girlfriend.” Their friendship is an anchor for Witi and a testament to how far people are willing to go to stand beside those they care about.

Throughout the novel, Topp includes diary entries from Witi’s father that give some insight into his feelings. In one entry he talks about having reoccurring dreams. Witi knows his father was diagnosed with schizophrenia and has a growing suspicion that he may have inherited the condition when he starts seeing things. This leads him on a journey to understand his father.

The formatting of the novel is interesting. One diary entry is reminiscent of a poem, which separated it from the narrative and gave the scene a different tone to Witi’s perspective.

Moonlight riding a midnight wave

Easterly sun greeting a westerly wave”.

Later in the book, Witi sees a sequence of numbers in the shape of a wave which is depicted on the page. The barcode is also in the shape of a surfboard. This unique formatting adds a new twist to the book.

Witi is a relatable protagonist for many teens. The book is scattered with references from pop culture, including Aquaman (“Next one’s yours, Aquaman.”) These casual references add to Witi being a well-rounded main character who the target audience will relate to and can root for.

Throughout the story, cyclone Trudy is drawing closer. The cyclone makes a dramatic entry, arriving at the worst possible time for the characters when Witi and his friends, Alana and Jordy, drive out to go surfing. They quickly find themselves in the middle of the cyclone. As they fight to survive the elements, Witi is unaware of a betrayal sneaking up on him.

As the plot progresses, it becomes clear that Witi’s connection to the sea isn’t just in his mind. He has more control over water than he ever thought possible, adding a supernatural and magical aspect to Topp’s thriller.

Topp made the style choice to not include speech marks when characters talk. This threw me at first, but as I read more, I became used to it. Occasionally sentences are broken up, with paragraphs in the middle. While I found this slightly strange, it added a sense of excitement and motion to the writing:

“Jordy moved out of the way to give Witi priority

as the horizon gave birth to another collection of black lines.”

Topp ties up all the plot points to make a satisfying ending and leaves open the possibility for a sequel. Nor’ East Swell is a tale full of heart, family and surfing and a great read for teens and adults. Those who enjoyed Topp’s previous release, Hucking Cody, will love this new adventure.

 Reviewed by Denika Mead