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We Run the Tides by Vendela Vida review – an enigmatic coming-of-age mystery | Fiction

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As 13-year-olds in 1980s San Francisco, Eulabee and her girlfriends own the streets of their affluent, coastal neighbourhood. Sea Cliff is famed for its unbroken views of the Golden Gate Bridge, and to keep it that way, everything ugly is hidden. Even so, menace swirls with the chilly fog that rolls in: Eulabee’s art-dealer father bought their house on the cheap, after the previous owners’ sons – the evocatively known “Prospero boys” – careened off the rails; one of her friends, Faith, is named after the child her parents lost before adopting her; and of course there are the rocks and the crashing waves, which the girls have learned to navigate by timing the tides.

They have altogether less control over their changing bodies, which as well as bestowing new powers are becoming magnets for a different kind of threat. After a man pulls over to ask them the time on their walk to school one morning, Eulabee’s closest friend, Maria Fabiola, claims to have witnessed a lewd act. The others agree, and Eulabee’s refusal to back her up leaves her ostracised.

Maria Fabiola is the kind of girl who’s always referred to by both names. The heir to a sugar fortune, she’s precocious, with “ethereal eyes” and a laugh that feels like a reward. When she vanishes shortly after the disputed incident, the community is left shaken, but Eulabee – funny, flawed, and keenly observant – has her own theories.

Two more disappearances follow, yet despite the addition of a suicide and a murder, the mysteries that captivate Vendela Vida, herself a San Francisco native, aren’t of the gumshoe variety. What We Run the Tides probes so poignantly is the volatility of female adolescence, its on-the-cusp caprices and confusions, as well as the more timeless riddles of independence and identity, seduction and storytelling.

A coda catapults the narrative into 2019, when Sea Cliff has become an enclave of tech CEOs. Though its abruptness burnishes the lost world of the preceding pages, Eulabee’s enduring longing for explanations is destined to be thwarted. It’s an altogether fitting close to a perceptive, teasing delight that succeeds in being both knowing and powerfully enigmatic.

We Run the Tides by Vendela Vida is published by Atlantic (£14.99). To order a copy go to guardianbookshop.com. Delivery charges may apply

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