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In Association with

The Tribes of Palos Verdes by Joy Nicholson
reviewed by J.M. Frank

Fourteen year-old Medina is an outcast at her snobbish new Palos Verdes school, she is the black sheep of her dysfunctional family, and even though she is new to surfing and quickly learns to conquer the waves, she is shunned within the exclusively male surfer community.

The surfing focus of the plot, though not complex, is executed proficiently. The reader truly gets the sense of both Medina's physical struggle with the waves and her more difficult social struggle for acceptance. Furthermore, the reader wants Medina to triumph, and takes pleasure and some vicarious pride in her success.

But this is no more a story about surfing or fitting in with rich, judgmental neighbors, than Catcher in the Rye is a story about making it in prep school. This novel is something rare indeed on today's bookshelves, it is a story with depth and psychological complexity. At its heart, "Tribes" is a rich, insightful story about the sometimes skewed, sometimes painful relationships between people. What is more, I cannot recall a novel that has more vividly or movingly portrayed the dynamics in a disturbed American family. The author's insight can also be seen in the main character's unique behavior and perspective. Her struggles and ultimate growth feel real and emotionally impactful.

The writing style is simple yet effective, even poetic at times. Without long passages of descriptive narrative, the writer effectively conveys the feel of surfing or just floating in a pool looking at the night sky. The writing does not take center stage, but is there to execute it's job---to tell a story. And it does it's job well, telling a story that's not only enjoyable but surprisingly complex.

You may have some trouble finding it at your local bookstore (especially in a landlocked state), but Nicholson's Tribes of Palos Verdes, is a treasure worth digging through a little sand to find.

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