Review: Riptide by Lindsey Scheibe

Review: Riptide by Lindsey Scheibe

Lindsey Scheibe's debut novel, Riptide, has an intriguing hook: surfing, best friends and alternating points-of-view (and let's not forget the appealing cover). It's one of the novels--along with Some Quiet Place--which Flux promoted enthusiastically at the midwinter ALA meeting.

However, despite all of that promise, Riptide proved to be a bit of a disappointment. With the exception of the surfing scenes, which were quite vivid, I found myself wanting more depth and focus from this story.

Riptide is told in alternating points-of-view by Grace and Ford, childhood friends in southern California who live for the surf and sand. Grace can't wait to leave her troubled home, where her father is prone to angry, violent outburst and she's not allowed a much of a social life.

Fragmented images fly through my head—some fun, some scary. Surfing at the beach, Dad’s face when he’s angry, shopping, jogging in the park with Mom, Mom lecturing me on making a good impression, wearing clothes I don’t like, working out with Ford. Then come the big fears. The possibility of having surfing taken away if I screw up and lose my class rank. Not knowing when Dad’s going to explode. Whether or not I can bring it to the Jack n John Surf Comp. It’s like being on an out of control tilt-a-whirl at a carnival. Even on a dream weekend, I can’t escape the stress of home.

As a result, she's pinned all her hopes of escape on a surfing scholarship at University of California-San Diego (I didn't realize this, but there surfing is a sport some schools--mostly in California--actually offer scholarships for). Whe opportunity to enter a world-class surfing competition presents itself, an opportunity that could mean catching the eye of UCSD's surfing coach, Ford enters Grace into the competition and she spends the summer training while Ford interns at Grace's father's law office.

Ford sees himself as more than than Grace's best friend. He's had a crush on her for ages, and feels obligated to keep on eye on her--especially after Grace's father (his boss) asks him to keep her out of trouble. Ford's family is nothing like Grace's. His mother is a professor, and their family life is full of warmth.

Ma whacks me on the head. I pull back grinning. She says, “Use a plate.”

I slide her coffee cup to her. “It was only a little piece.” 
She hones in on me. “A plate, mijo.” That mijo wasn’t the term of endearment. It was the warning one. The I’m your mama and and I can take you out kind. 
I make a big show of walking over to the cabinets and pulling out two plates. I hand Ma one. “Madam. May I serve you chilaquiles? I heard the cook is exceptional.” 
She chuckles. “You’re too much, mijo.” 
“Ah. Now that mijo is music to my ears.” I scoop a small portion on her plate—teasing her. She makes a big show with her hands and winks. “That’s the perfect amount. For a single celled amoeba! Give me a real portion.”

Ford is an idealist, and because his mother immigrated to the U.S. from Mexico, he hopes to pursue a career in immigration law, helping people like his friend Jorge, who was deported, despite having lived nearly all his life in San Diego.

By far the strongest elements of Riptide are the scenes in the water and depiction of the southern California surfing culture.

Author Scheibe is a long-time surfer herself and so the good and bad of surfing come to life vividly, including the sexism within the sport.

His buddy tucks a small bit of wax into the calf of his wetsuit. “Dude. Femmes always surf foamies. Real bros surf the big dogs.” Then he heads out to the ocean without a backward glance, leaving me steaming on the beach. Mr. Hangover cackles, says, “Ouch. Later Diva. Spanks for the gum.” I sit on the beach fuming. There are so many surfer girls that shred as hard or harder than most guys. Those chumps are 1950’s in the worst way. Sexist. Some spark of anger inside me fans my competitive side. I’m going to show those tools what’s up. They think I don’t have what it takes? I can hang with them. I’ll prove it.

The author digs into the passion surfers have for the sport, and I enjoyed both Ford and Grace's relationship with the water. It was refreshing that Grace's commitment to surfing outweighed Ford's, which was refreshing flip in the gender roles of most sports novels. (I noticed this in Liz Fichera's debut, Hooked, as well, so perhaps things are shifting a bit?)

My butt hits the hard sand before I spring up, ready to get even, but by the time I wipe salty water from my eyes Ford is on the beach waxing his board—a ten foot Stewart Regal, single fin. The seductiveness of his surfboard is ridiculous, a new take on a retro design. Tribal spears hug the outsides of the blue board, which blends in with the ocean, making him a god commanding the waves.

I also appreciated the Riptide explores how abuse is hidden.

Even Grace's close friend Ford has no clue what goes on in her family, has no idea that she's always waiting for the other shoe to drop. Outwardly, Grace's father present his domineering of his family as caring and worry, and everyone buys this ruse. However, because Riptide is rather unfocused, I'd point readers interested in a fuller examination of this subject to Mindi Scott's Live Through This or Because I Am Furniture by Thalia Chatlas

Unfortunately, these standout components don't compensate for Riptide's disjointed plotlines and hard-to-believe hook.

The cornerstone of the premise of Riptide is that Grace's only way out is through a surfing scholarship at UCSD. I would have believed this except for the fact that Grace is also at the top of her class academically. The novel is set between Grace's junior and senior years, and it's hard to buy into the idea that a student of her caliber (she's on track to be valedictorian) would never receive any guidance counseling at school, that there wouldn't be opportunities for her to pursue higher education on her academic merit. Knowing what I know of higher education, the problem niggled at the back of my head the entire time I was reading Riptide. Other readers may not be bothered by this, so your mileage may vary in this regard. 

Additionally, the subplots meander and take away from the core plot: Grace's preparation for the surfing competition and her family trouble.

Ford becomes involved in helping a new acquaintance he meets through another intern at the law firm; he deals with his guilt over not being able to help his friend Jorge; both Grace and Ford become entangled with other minor characters. There's a lot happening, and while there are resolutions to each of these plot threads, the resolutions feel forced because the threads were 1) never thoroughly explored and 2) distracted from the main story, which had enough depth to carry the novel.

Frankly, if Riptide had only been written from a single point of view--that of Grace--the story would ramble less and done her story more justice.

Because of all these tangents, the romance between Grace and Ford reads as rather forced.

There were definite moments where I really believed in the pair's connection--including when Grace is (inexplicably) allowed to spend the weekend with Ford's family--but it wasn't enough, because the romance subplot competed with too many other subplots.

Finally, I imagine some readers will be bothered by the way some of these characters behave and talk. For example, in an inner monologue Grace refers to a girl as a "ho-bag." Ford, as I mentioned earlier, agrees to keep an eye on Grace for her dad and his inner monologue about this is extremely off-putting. None of this type of thing felt out of place for what I'd expect from these characters, but it gave me pause. Did I want them to be better? Sure. Both bothered me. However, given the way Scheibe establishes the language of surfer culture and the power dynamics in their world, it didn't read as flip, though neither were necessary either. I imagine others will interpret this differently, and that's a reasonable criticism and one that merits further discussion.

I do think some readers will be swept away with Scheibe's nicely-paced writing (I read Riptide in an evening and it didn't lag and kept me engaged despite the plot holes) and wonderful descriptions of surfing, and I did appreciate the naturally multicultural cast of characters.

However, if you're looking for a top-notch surfing novel that deals with heavy issues, you'd be better off reading Raw Blue by Kirsty Eagar; if you're looking for a debut novel featuring excellent dual narration, try Kristin Halbrook's Nobody But Us; for a new novel with well-done sports depictions, check out the aforementioned Hooked.

FNL Character Rating: Season Two's Unresolved Plot-lines and Disappearing Characters

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