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A Contemporary Hit: Dreams Beyond the Shore by Tamika Gibson

Tamika Gibson's debut novel Dreams Beyond the Shore blends politics and romance

If you have ever been intrigued by the inner workings of the mind of a Trinidadian teenager Dreams Beyond the Shore is the book for you. Set to the rhythms of Trinidad and Tobago’s musical accent and filled with enough teenage hullabaloo to rival any Babysitter’s Club instalment, Tamika Gibson’s debut novel is poised to capture the hearts of Caribbean teens and tickle the fancy of their parents. From adolescents to “Grammas” this story has something for everyone.

Follow Chelsea Marchand, a headstrong and independent seventeen-year-old who feels suffocated by her role as the daughter of Prime Ministerial candidate Dr Peter Marchand. Chelsea is a rebel without a cause, mouthy and fiercely loyal.  In the midst of her internal struggle to “live her own purpose” she meets Kyron Grant, a young man who, like her, is itching to escape his father’s shadow. Despite their academic challenges and unequal social standing a tentative romance emerges, but will their teenage love affair crumble or stand firm in the face of family obligations?

The romantic subplot seems like something straight out of an issue of Teen Vogue, but the themes at play are far more substantial than the apparent brouhaha over potential romantic partners. Gibson couches existential discussions – more adult than her characters’ years – in scenarios that are familiar to teens and young adults the world over. Chelsea’s nerve-wracking decisions of where to go to school and how much of her personal life she should let her parents dictate are frameworks for the larger philosophical question of how to live one’s life. Older readers will appreciate that Chelsea’s burgeoning dissatisfaction with the status quo and uncertainty about charting her own course are merely the first steps toward adulthood. Younger readers will marvel at this seventeen-year-old girl’s remarkable and unusual self-awareness.

But romance isn’t Gibson’s only hat trick. She peppers her plot with Trinidadian politics, hinting at crime and scandal only so much as they are relevant to understanding her characters’ motivations. Chelsea’s determination to build her own life is partly spurred on by a distaste for her father’s brand of political persuasion; Kyron experiences a similar kind of inspiration. Both characters are painfully aware of their parents’ flaws, yet remain emotionally tied to their fathers out of respect and gratitude. Here Gibson displays a knack for sketching morally ambiguous characters where white collar criminals can still be utterly devoted to their families. In another display of skill she later uses the familiar trope of the corrupt politician to expertly deliver a dramatic irony which is made all the more potent by the use of alternating narrators.

Switching between the points of view of both Chelsea and Kyron, the narrative distinctions are clear. Chelsea’s voice is more studied and stays closer to Standard English while Kyron speaks more freely in the language of the people. Fans of the Trinbagonian dialect will find much to delight at in these pages as Gibson sprinkles her narrative with native words like mamaguy and picong, cosquelle and bachac. In response to Kyron’s pathetic attempt at sweet talk Chelsea tells him via handwritten note, “You sound like an educated spranger”.

On top of its romance and smattering of drama Dreams Beyond the Shore also manages to be quite funny, dispensing this humour both simply and effectively. Whether it’s wisecracks about the gastrointestinal benefits of Magnesia, or Chelsea’s healthy scepticism about God’s interest in her love life Gibson’s writing elicits its fair share of laughs. It helps that the episodes are easily familiar to her audience: taxi drivers heckling passers-by, customer service staff who can’t “just mind their own damn business”, and of course the ubiquitous urge to flee the struggle of island life for supposedly greener pastures.

This urge is the raison d'être of Gibson’s manuscript, taking the seemingly separate lives of a Prime Minister’s daughter and a drug dealer’s bastard son and grounding them in a shared aspiration, a shared aspiration which sparks the romance that inspires them to follow their dreams. This urge is so well-known to Caribbean adolescents that to see it represented in fiction, in their own language can only engender a feeling of resilient ambition in the novel’s younger readers.

In a recent television interview Gibson admitted that she was determined to foster a sense of identity in teenage fans of literature and that the idea for the book grew out of the desire to have Caribbean young adults see themselves represented in the stories they read. Her original manuscript, entitled De First Family, took first place in the 2016 Burt Award for Caribbean Literature, a cash prize whose purpose is to encourage and discover the best writing for young adults. 

With witty and engaging characters deployed against the colourful backdrop of life on the twin republic and sharing the universally acknowledged truth that growing up is wildly confusing, Gibson’s debut is the novel du jour for adolescents on the cusp of adulthood. Neither romance novel nor bildungsroman but some happy medium between the two, Dreams Beyond the Shore is a clever and contemporary story that will surely be a favourite with millennials right across the Caribbean.

 

Title: Dreams Beyond the Shore

Author: Tamika Gibson

Publisher: Blouse and Skirt Books. 171pp.