by Catherine Torres
Publication Date: May 2016
Find This Book: Sula’s Voyage
I was given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
I’m not sure if I was in the position to truly comprehend and appreciate the culture represented in this novel, but I loved to try. The novel included beautiful portrayals of the Philippines and their culture, though some of it might have gone over my head. Divine superstition, kissing elder’s hands and the food is mainly what I got from this novel. I’d only read one other book set in the Philippines before, so it was great to leave the usual American setting (Memoirs of a Non-Enemy Combatant by Alex Gilvarry for those interested).
This was a great coming of age book about the main character, 15 year old Sula, with some fantasy elements and romance swept in for good measure, which was really cool. The book wasn’t particularly focused on Sula’s magical healing powers; in fact they weren’t even 100% confirmed until the very end of the book. Instead it was about Sula’s self-identity and family. As the daughter of a marine science researcher she constantly moves and changing schools which can’t be easy when searching for stability and a place one can call home.
On a different note, a major plot point was that Sula was made fun of for her dark skin, which contrasts starkly from her family’s pale skin. Her father’s parents even seemed to disown them because Sula was a “bastard” child. This plot point left me extremely confused. Maybe it’s a difference of culture? I don’t understand why Sula’s parents didn’t just admit and say that she was adopted to begin with. Obviously she is not theirs, so why pretend up to the point where you have a fake story of her birth and the father’s parent’s believe you has an affair with a dark skinned man? Does it really matter that she’s not their flesh and blood? That’s pretty much the only thing that bothered me with this novel, but again it could just be a cultural thing that I’m not getting? But at the end this was kinda swept under the rug really fast and they became a happy family again without much discussion about them lying to her about her heritage after all these years. This is the one thing that detracted from the book for me.
I thought that Sula’s relationship with her parents, especially her dad, was really cute. The story starts out with Sula being in her father’s college classes because she decided to not go back to her high school. She hits it off with another student named James until he mysteriously disappears and her mother sweeps her off to The Cove, the home of her Mother’s best friend. More characters are then introduced including the best friend, her husband, and their three children, which whom Sula has intricate relationships with. My favorite was probably her newly formed relationship with the daughter, Mira. Beach bonding and fire dancing was just so sweet and fun to read. It wasn’t even a big part of the book but it really is all about the little moments adding up, and this was done really well by Catherine Torres! This was an extremely enjoyable and easy read and my biggest problem with it is that there should be more! There’s lots of nice details in the book and it overshadows the relationships a bit, but I wouldn’t want the details cut either. Making the book a bit longer would have been worth it to show off the different relationships at a deeper level!
I don’t normally do this, but a quote really got to me and this review wouldn’t feel right without me sharing it. The quote was Tita Lupe’s (who is dying of cancer) last words:
“The sea had salt enough without us adding our tears to it”
This simple eloquence really made me think, which is exactly what a great book should do!
Another thing that I loved was Sula’s relationship with James. He was mentioned before as her fellow classmate and love interest in the novel. I felt like their relationship was important to the novel, but it didn’t become the center point or take over the plot. Furthermore, they actually had interesting and intelligent conversations instead of the clichéd jabs-back-and-forth-until-the-inevitable-kiss. This as not only refreshing, but also extremely thought-provoking to read. Particularly their first conversation alone when James discusses his project about turning the sea waves into music. This reminded me of the sort of smart, creative, weirdness that my own friends get into. It again wasn’t a huge plot point in the novel, but it was probably my favorite part. I love getting to learn new things and the second I read this I immediately texted them up about what a cool concept this would be!
All in all, I'm glad I had the opportunity to read this book and it's no surprise this was an Asian Book Award finalist!