Craig Alan Johnson,
Wave Watcher
(Bellewood Press, 2005)

The ancient ones characterized their world as being variously made up of the four elements of earth, air, fire and water. As many of us learned in elementary school, the Earth is three-fourths water. We have been told that we are primarily made of water, with a few extras thrown in. In utero, mammals live in water during the gestation period. Given all these factors, it is little wonder that oceans and the waves that are part of their ebb and flow so closely reflect who and what we are.

Wave Watcher, Craig Alan Johnson's debut novel, is a further reflection of the water cycle, and is a harmonic convergence of sorts within the theme of the life cycle of a certain family. Johnson, a teacher and world traveler, uses Wave Watcher to tell the stories that flow within the lives of Ray, the book's narrator, Louie, his younger brother, and their father.

Ray's and Louie's father is a teacher and writer. His interest in writing is such that he encourages his two sons to follow their own dreams of writing, collecting, imagining and being whatever they choose, so long as its end is to follow their gift. In his view, his children had their own life journey and he was there to listen and, if asked, to serve as their guide. Since Ray is interested in writing, his father shares with him his own pen, a Mont Blanc. This pen serves as a link between Ray and his father, particularly when Ray starts to write a series of essays.

Each essay is self-contained and serves as a frame for a point Ray wishes to make. He writes, "It was almost a year ago that I sat in my father's lap trying to explain the waves to him. The December sun had already set behind us, and we were the only ones left on our beach. We held our chins high, looking east as the cool ocean breeze blew over us." With these words, one is introduced to the narrator and the book's theme.

The chapters in this book resemble parables in that they are fairly short, but pack a powerful lesson. Each chapter builds upon the last, and allows the reader to feel as if he or she is listening to the story. It is clear that Johnson put much thought into each word he wrote, and that the book truly was a labor of love. It is a wonderful book, and one that allows the reader to easily gain the rhythm of the water's song within.

by Ann Flynt
23 July 2005

Through journaling, writers not only find and perfect their voice, they also discover inspiration, which is apparently what happened to Craig Alan Johnson. So valuable is journaling to Johnson that Wave Watcher, his first novel, presents us with the journal of Ray, a gifted 11-year-old boy who is attempting to make sense of the patterns he believes rule his life.

Together with his family, Ray lives on an idyllic Brazilian coast that he and his younger brother (born with one lung, but nonetheless the more vibrant of the two) explore and come to know as only children can come to know a place. Ray's home life is nearly perfect: in addition to living near a series of beautiful beaches, his parents are supportive, creative, and provide the children with structure, balance and freedom. Within this environment, Ray is able to develop his natural abilities to their fullest, and with time he hopes to become just like his father, a writer.

In Wave Watcher, Johnson is able to craft a lovely tale with moving character sketches and deep insights into the human condition. Moreover, his ample referencing of modern classics will help broaden his readership's literary vista if they are keen enough to follow them up.

But for the reviewer, there is a significant flaw in the book: the device which the author employs -- that the book is actually the journal of a young boy -- is tenable save for the dozen or so passages the reviewer simply cannot fathom an 11-year-old boy writing, no matter how gifted he might be. For example, when speaking about an important evening in their lives, Ray writes about his father, "I listened to his footsteps. The front door opened, and then it closed. Soon there was only silence, but in my mind's eye I could see his footprints forming in the sand as he walked along the gently lapping waves of our beach, contemplating the weight of promises made."

For me, instead of serving as the lyric, thought-provoking passages they were intended to be, insights such as these were instead jarring, like a dissonant chord. And this is a pity, because when the reader's suspension of belief is shaken, especially in a book that is so deeply personal; well, that's not good. This is not to detract from Mr. Johnson's storytelling abilities -- he indeed has talent, and for the most part the book's flow carries the reader along on a fine tale.

So while Wave Watcher is an enjoyable story, it is especially appropriate for readers -- teenagers, say -- who are able to accept that the central character is endowed with a wisdom far beyond his 11 years.

by Jim Curtiss
1 September 2007

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