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Nor' East Swell by Aaron Topp


Surfing books tend to be all the same. They tend to rely on over indulgent imagery based around the shape and curl of the wave and how incredible the feeling of being on the water, gliding through the graceful arch of the perfect break, lifts the spirits and wipes away all anxiety. Then there are endless pages filled with some romantic notion of the water that buoys the character but causes a disturbance between their time on land, and their time on the water.

Thankfully, Nor’ East Swell does not fall into that stereotype. It does have the descriptions of wide riding and the bliss that one associates with that experience, but there is a lot more going on in layers of mystique and general intrigue.


Our main protagonist, Witi, is a keen surfer. Loves the water, feels at home. Usual protagonist in a surfer book stuff. But out of the water is very much out of his comfort zone. From a tough upbringing including abandonment and some pretty tricky dynamics to navigate, he finds himself pulled in more ways that one to the ocean.


Enter Alana, a close friend of Witi’s who helps him begin to unravel the troubles and heartaches of his disappeared dad. Among them may just be the clues to better understand this supernatural call to the ocean that he has. Then there is Jody, the Australian surfer who joins in the party by starting at the same school as Witi and Alana. He is endlessly energetic, whom one imagines to be a little like a Labrador pup, looking for the chance to get out and surf with the team.


Interestingly, Topp opts for very little punctuation in the conversation scenes meaning one is never quite sure which is dialogue, and which is narration. There is a logical guess to be made by the use of paragraphing, but without speech marks, or little attribution, it is a little confusing at times. That aside, the narrative is a roarer of rollercoaster, beginning with the reader feeling quite secure with the trajectory of things and expecting to see its evolution through to completion, and then being careened off in another direction that is something quite remarkable.


Topp’s literary history is peppered with awards in the Young Adult Fiction category, and it is quite easy to see why. He has a voice that emanates from the pages of Nor’ East Swell - and other novels by Topp - and captures the imagination.


Overall, the mix of surf, mystery, mental health, and friendship meld together in a really well crafted book. It demonstrates the literary depth that Topp has and continues to deliver in his oeuvre. An unexpectedly good and cracking read.


Reviewer: Chris Reed

One Tree House