I’m often asked what my books are about, and I’ve never found that easy to answer. How do I summarize eighty-thousand words and several months of gruelling, thrilling work? Do I spew the plot, explain the themes, or give them a catchy hook like a Netflix teaser? Too often I try to do all of the above, rambling semi-coherently while the poor person smiles and nods. I’m getting better, I think.
My second novel, The Rebellious Tide, is about many things. It’s a story about blame and belonging, oppression and identity. There’s adventure and mystery and loads of drama. But if I were to pinpoint the heart of the story, it would be the feeling of being young.
I was twenty-one when I spent a year living aboard a ship, which was the inspiration for the story’s setting. I was adrift then, literally and figuratively, not knowing what to do with my life apart from searching for something abstract and elusive. I remember how it felt standing on the top deck, the wind in my hair and the salt on my skin, my entire life spread outward like the endless sea. It felt like I’d found a place where I belonged.
I tried to capture these feelings while writing The Rebellious Tide. The novel’s complicated hero, Sebastien, boards a ship posing as a member of staff to stalk the father he’s never met. He wants answers to why he and his mother were abandoned so many years ago, but he’s already made up his mind about the type of man his father is. Sebastien thinks he understands what’s good and what’s bad, virtuous and vile. As he uncovers secrets that may reveal more than he’s ever wanted to know about his own identity, he learns that the truth is often more complicated.
In many ways, Sebastien is my younger self, whose noble ideals were always backed by unyielding confidence. I look back at that naïve boy with nothing but forgiveness—I miss him, even. After all, it isn’t easy being young. I try not to forget that feeling of being adrift, of not knowing who I am or what I want beyond what I’ve been told to be and want. What is an identity? Is it inherited or invented? Adopted or created? These are the questions Sebastien attempts to answer because, like my past self, he wants nothing more than to understand who he is.
The Rebellious Tide is about that fleeting moment we call youth, and what is youth if not a bottle of potential adrift on the sea? If you join Sebastien on his journey, I want you to feel the wind in your hair and the salt on your skin. Above all, no matter your age, I want you to feel young.
Eddy Boudel Tan is the author of the novels After Elias and The Rebellious Tide. He's been selected as a 2021 Rising Star by the Writers' Trust of Canada and a finalist for the Edmund White Award. His stories can also be found in Joyland, Yolk, Gertrude Press, and the G&LR. He lives with his husband in Vancouver. Read more here.
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