An interview with Diana Farid
The Children’s Book Review
In this episode, I talk with Diana Farid about her coming-of-age novel written in verse, Wave!
Wave is set in 1980s Southern California and is about a Persian American girl who surfs, sings, and struggles to fit in.
You might know Diana Farid as the author of the picture book When You Breathe, a 2021 NCTE notable poetry book and winner of the 2021 EUREKA Gold award for children’s nonfiction. Both When You Breathe and Wave are published by Cameron Kids. She is a poet and a physician at Stanford University. She lives in the Bay Area.
Listen to the Interview
- About Diana Farid
- About Wave
- Diana Farid discusses the characters and writing of Wave
- Diana Farid talks about writing poetry
- A brief chat about The Essential Rumi and Coleman Barks
- Diana Farid talks about surfing as a child
- Diana Farid talks about how writing and being a physician go hand-in-hand for her
- Diana Farid’s hopes for Wave
Read the Interview
Bianca Schulze: Hi, Diana. Welcome to The Growing Reader’s Podcast.
Diana Farid: Hi, Bianca. It’s so great to be here. Thank you so much for having me.
Bianca Schulze: Before we dive into talking about your novel in verse, Wave, you are also the author of an award-winning picture book, When You Breathe. And while both books are different, I can’t help but notice a common thread in your writing about connecting with oneself through breath and sending your song out into the world. So I’d love to start by getting to know what inspires you to write for children.
Diana Farid: Thank you so much for asking that question. It’s true both When You Breathe and Wave ultimately do come from a space in which I really hope that when a reader finishes reading the book and closes it, they get a sense of their intrinsic worth of the beauty that’s already within them. Simply of the fact of their being, of their breathing, that the world breathes life into that, and that that is really ultimately what makes them worthy.
On the cover of When You Breathe, there are these images of stars that we breathe in. And that fact comes both from the scientific world where we know that literally the oxygen that we breathe in and that gives us energy is made from as a result of the fusion reaction of molecules on other stars. And I think knowing that fact, combined with sort of the more poetic idea that we move through this world, that we connect with others, has real value. I think for us as individuals, as adults, being with children and for children themselves.
Bianca Schulze: I want you to know that my favorite books are the ones that make me stop and think and connect and feel. Wave did that for me in a huge way. I have not cried over a middle-grade book for many years in the way that my heart wept over Wave. It’s so beautiful. And I needed you to know.
I need to know how and why this was the story that spilled out of you.
Diana Farid: First of all, knowing that that was your response is incredibly moving for me. The biggest prize, the biggest wonder, and sense of satisfaction from having Wave be in the world is to have that connection with you and be able to share in that. So thank you for sharing that with me.
You know I grew up near the beach, and several years ago I was walking near the water at the ocean shore. And I had this strange idea that I just started thinking about what the ocean would be like if there were no waves? And then I thought about, well, gosh, what if there were no waves at all in the whole world? What would the world be like? And I went down this really, you know, kind of odd path. But I realized, oh, there would be no sound, no light, no music, no waves of emotion and wonder, or even the loss that we have is kind of like a wave.
And that journey, that questioning, combined with the story (that connected very deeply to my heart) that I wanted to explore in that moment, which was also me growing up in an environment where I didn’t necessarily look like everybody around me. I didn’t have a family life or a culture that was like what I was seeing on TV or what was around me. And the possibility, the loss that we all experience in life that I saw, that I see my patients go through when I care for them in a clinic setting, and what we experience in the world. The grief that we experience those questions and those explorations all combined into the story of Ava in Wave:
What is the value of going on these rides?
What is the meaning that we might derive from them?
And also, how do we get through? How do all of us get through?
What are the things that help us move forward?
And so those all came together in waves. Those are some of the real core ideas that I wanted to explore.
Bianca Schulze: Well, something that you touched on was how you grew up with a recognition that you appear different to others. And so, something that we need to shine a light on is Ava’s Middle Eastern background and why she’s a much-needed addition to the canon of kids’ literature. Do you want to speak about her background?
Diana Farid: Yeah. Ava is the protagonist, the main character we follow in Wave—she is Middle Eastern. Her parents were both born and raised in what we know of today as Iran. And even though we’re seeing more characters of Middle Eastern backgrounds or immigrants from the Middle East in more modern children’s literature published in the United States, we’re not necessarily seeing as often different belief systems or a variety of cultural practices.
Ava is a wonderful character. She’s a wonderful addition to current children’s literature because she isn’t what a lot of us might think of Middle Eastern, which is Islamic or practicing the Muslim faith. Her family is of a religious minority; specifically, Ava and her family practice the Baha’i faith.
But what it speaks to having a character like that in modern children’s literature for English-speaking readers or English readers is that Middle Easterners have many belief systems like all geographic individuals. Specific to the Middle East, there aren’t just people who practice the Islamic faith in the Middle East. Some people practice Judaism, or people practice Zoroastrianism, Sikh, there are Buddhists, there are agnostics, there are people who don’t believe in any religion. I think that’s a wonderful way to deepen our understanding that there is beauty and variety in all world geographies. And so, I’m hopeful that that will sort of lend to that conversation.
Bianca Schulze: Do you know what stood out to me? And it’s something that I think will resonate with all tween and teen readers is a universal desire just to belong. So will you share your thoughts on her need and want to fit in?
Diana Farid: Yeah, it’s so important, I think, for our middle-grade literature, in particular, to explore that feeling of belonging. It’s such a universal feeling that we all go through and tweens go through. And so that in and of itself, I think, is a reason to dive into that experience.
And then specifically for Ava, not looking like others, having to navigate a culture that she really feels a part of at school and amongst her friend group. But experiencing a different culture at home is quite universal for where we live in the United States; there are so many people of many experiences living together here.
One of the ways I explored that with Ava is this juxtaposition between her home life and her life at school and the beach. There are some fun scenes in Wave where we see what it’s like to be, for example, at a Persian party in Southern California. We get exposed to some of the cultural expectations about careers. We get exposed to some cultural expectations about potentially a girl’s role (even though that’s juxtaposed to Ava having a mother who’s a surgeon). And then the language differences that come up both in her home life and exposure to people who aren’t familiar with it. So, that’s one way that it’s explored.
One of the interesting things about how Ava finds a home in Wave is that she comes to understand this beauty and wisdom and sense of recognition in a famous Persian poet named Rumi—she gets exposed to his poetry. We see her recognition of some of the beauty that her culture brings—that the people around her may not see.
And then, we also watch her struggle with people that are her peers, not understanding her culture. She experiences xenophobia; she experiences racist comments. And my intention with that was to have us, as the readers, feel what that feels like, feel this tension that comes up when we feel like we don’t belong—when other people are saying that we don’t belong. Ultimately, through her friendship with her best friend in the book, Phoenix, her exploration of poetry, and finding her sense of who she is, she discovers where those beauties can come together within her. The sense of belonging ultimately is found for Ava.
Again, it comes back to that idea that we spoke to at the beginning of our interview, which is worthiness. Is it other people saying that we belong, that should ultimately be our sense of belonging? Or is it a recognition that we have value just simply for being? And when I say this, I think of all of the equity and justice issues that we obviously need to address as a society. I think the foundation of a lot of that comes with when we see that within us, and we see that within others through a story and our connection with them, we need that in order, I think, to ultimately realize our goals for justice and equity as a community.
Those are some of the ways in which Ava explores it, and we as readers get to explore it with her.
Bianca Schulze: I just think that that idea of self-worth is so important for everyone. And that really comes across with Ava.
I want to talk about what you brought up about how friendships are important. The central friendship that takes place in Wave is with Phoenix. And I don’t want to give away any spoilers, so I don’t want to ask any specific questions about Phoenix. But what do you want listeners to know about Phoenix and his role in Wave?
Diana Farid: Gosh. I love Phoenix’s character. I am so excited that readers will get to meet him. Phoenix is Ava’s buddy. Phoenix is the brother that Ava never had, the brother that Ava always wanted. Ava is growing up as an only child and has a single parent, which is not uncommon for many children. She longs for a sibling. In Wave, there’s a poem where she describes what it’s like to be an only child. She sees Phoenix as that buddy, like that brother that she’s always wanted and, in a sense, really has through him.
Phoenix is also a neighbor. Phoenix and Ava grow up with each other because their parents work together. And so Phoenix starts out for us, as the reader, as having that place. As Ava describes her life to us more, we get to experience that spring and summer of 1987 with her. We go with her on this ride of her realizing that she has some romantic feelings for Phoenix. We watch Ava negotiate what that feels like—the confusion around that and its implications for their future friendship.
What’s lovely about the depiction of their friendship, I think, is Phoenix is the character in some ways that reflects back to Ava everything true about her—Phoenix makes her feel like she’s fully seen before she even sees it herself. He kind of, I think, allows her to sort of open her eyes to that. I think that it’s a friendship that not only allows her to feel less alone—which is kind of what she wanted as she was growing up to sort of have this buddy—but ultimately becomes a catalyst for her to have this immense growth and this incredible epiphany at the end of the story.
Bianca Schulze: I love that this novel has strong and consistent themes. There’s surfing and the connection to water and the connection to Phoenix. There’s poetry, and there’s music. Ava’s love of singing and mixtapes brings the music to life. The eighties child in me wants to ask you to share a highlight from the book. And it’s the part of the story where Ava receives a tape player recorder as a gift from both her mom and her best friend, Phoenix.
Diana Farid: Yes. Isn’t that so wonderful? I loved going back to that time when I made mixtapes—that feeling of needing to listen to the radio closely because you wanted to grab that song because you didn’t necessarily have money to buy the tape or access the tape for one reason or another. And that was such a fun exploration for me.
And yes, one of my favorite scenes is when Ava is gifted a tape recorder. The setup is that Ava’s mom wanted to give her the tape recorder, but she enlisted Phoenix to help him pick it out. He comes over to Ava’s house and gives her the gift. She’s super excited because this is one of the big things to do in those days, especially if you love music and you love discovering new music.
Back then, it was also a really fun way of making a gift for somebody—a friend or somebody that you had a crush on. So the opportunity to make a mixtape went beyond your world of the music you liked. It was something that you can do for somebody else, just like we might create playlists today. I was really excited.
Ava’s super stoked to get this mixtape. In the scene, she then discovers that there’s a tape inside. And the tape isn’t blank. It’s a tape that Phoenix has made. Phoenix, she finds, has made a mixtape for her. This is such a fun scene because it touches on what you said; this thread is woven throughout the book, a fun one about mixtapes and music. But then it touches on this deeper thread and this idea of what a gift is. So Ava is getting this gift, she’s getting this physical gift of this recorder, but she also gets this gift of the mixtape. Beyond that, she’s so excited; we see that, and we hear this, and we read at the end of the scene that the real gift is inside.
So there’s this theme in Wave of what is a gift? And we come to understand that for Ava at least, and probably for many of us, the real gift isn’t the thing; it’s the connection. It’s the attention that that gift demonstrates—the idea that somebody was thinking so much about you that they went to the trouble of making this tape for you. I love that scene on so many levels because it also touches on how Phoenix recognizes what Ava truly loves, and it shows the little bit of crush that’s developing for the two of them.
And then, it also goes deeper to touch on what are the gifts that we give each other as friends and parents and to our children. Is it the things, or is it the attention? Is it the being seen? This feeds into the conversation that we can have about worthiness and what creates that sense of worthiness and being seen being held as we walk through our lives.
Bianca Schulze: When Ava discovered the mixtape tape was in the recorder, it made my heart feel like I wanted to sing. It was amazing. Would you be willing to read us a section or share a favorite quote from that part of the story?
Diana Farid: Oh, gosh, yes. I would love to share a part.
One of the things about mixtape-making that I realized was neat was—I didn’t really realize this until I was writing. Actually, I don’t know if you remember making mixtapes, but you’d press record, and you’d often hear if you once you played the mix tape back, you’d often hear the sound of the button being pressed down. Or you might hear a snippet of the radio host saying something about the song. And there was this idea sometimes to make the mixtape perfect, to maybe not have those sounds in it. And I realized as I was thinking back on mixtapes and then writing about mixtape-making that those are some of the best sounds.
I remember when I would listen to a mixtape made for me and, at least for me when I would hear that sound of the tape player being pressed and the recording starting, I would get so excited. It would actually create a little bit of a feeling in me. So thinking about what is that feeling? And I think for me at least it was, gosh, you know, somebody made this for me. Somebody physically pressed a button down and thought I would like this song and would want to have this song on the mixtape.
So one of my favorite parts of the book, at least in terms of this theme of gift-giving and mix tape making, is in another poem where Ava describes pretty precisely and kind of detailed, almost like a list, what it takes to make a mixtape. She describes those sounds. She says, please don’t worry about the sounds of those buttons being pressed. Those are some of the best sounds. And here is the quote from that part of the book.
“Those are some of the best sounds like water splashing as you paddle for a wave. The ride’s about to start.”
That, for me, just really said so much about mix tape making, but also the gift-giving in life and the connection that we can have with one another.
Bianca Schulze: I feel like this is what I love about your writing, is that you captured all of these little nuances. As somebody who used to sit there with a tape player and record the songs on the radio. I mean, you took me back there perfectly. When you write a novel, you have all this space in your sentences to deliver these sounds and the tastes and the smells and everything going on. When you write in verse, it’s so pared down. And so the fact that you’re able to deliver that is really amazing.
Diana Farid: Oh, thank you. Yeah. Thank you so much.
Bianca Schulze: At what point in your life did you start writing poetry?
Diana Farid: Years back, my mom was cleaning out some stuff and she gave me this poem. I did not remember writing what I wrote to her. Apparently, I was upset about something, and I expressed it in a poem, and I gave it to her, and she kept it. It’s a horrible poem. But it has some rhyme and it’s succinct. And so, I mean, I’d have to say the real answer to that question is, I mean, I was probably like seven or eight when something in me compelled me to write in that way.
But in terms of thoughtfully purposefully writing, my thoughts and feelings in poetic form probably occurred closer to high school. And I think at first it really stemmed from a love for music. I had a few records growing up, and one of the records I had, for better or for worse, was the Grease musical record.
Bianca Schulze: Yes!
Diana Farid: I loved that album. It was one of those albums that had a bifold. There were two records, and each record had an A and a B side. The photos of the film were spread out—John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John were splattered all over the pages. I listened to that album over and over and over again. That probably was one of the beginnings of me being really attuned to music and lyrics. I love listening to the radio, and I think fundamentally, that’s where the love for it came.
I remember very distinctly starting kindergarten and learning to read the Dick and Jane books. And I was so bored. I was so bored. I mean, nothing against the people that wrote that book—obviously, it has its place. But I was seeking something more—something musical or some emotion or something like that. And I went through elementary school not necessarily thinking of myself as a reader and probably even in junior high.
I very distinctly remember having a notebook and writing. I remember writing poetry, even though I wasn’t necessarily exposed to that much of it outside of song lyrics or poetry that was read at many of these Persian parties that I went to.
One interesting thing about at least the Persian parties that I grew up going to is that art is not something that’s always separated from everyday life. When you go to one of these parties, which is often lots of family, extended family, friends and family, big crowds in every room music, at one point in the evening, inevitably somebody starts telling jokes.
Then at another point, people start dancing and not uncommonly for each other—people stand around them and clap or sing to the music. And then, at some point, somebody starts reading poetry, and it’s like memorized. Sometimes it’s Hafez, sometimes it’s Rumi, or sometimes it’s more modern poetry. And so probably some of that stuck. And it’s not even that I fully understood what I was hearing, but I think that sense of poetry being part of somebody’s life, everyday life, that it’s not sequestered on a bookshelf made its way into me.
I remember very distinctly finally getting excited about reading, or at least what I was reading in school. In high school, my ninth-grade English teacher—unfortunately, I don’t even remember her name, I should look it up—she lit a fire. We read the Count of Monte Cristo, Romeo and Juliet, of course, A Tale of Two Cities. That’s when I distinctly remember falling in love with the written word.
Studying the poetry of Shakespeare gave me such a sense of awe of what somebody could do with words and how much they could say in just like five words or 20 words. I really wanted to explore that. It became kind of like a challenge or a way to play. What can you try to say cleverly in a few words? And not to say that I can do that well per se, but …
Bianca Schulze: You can!
Diana Farid: I think it’s something that I really wanted to try to do for me, at least as a reader. I remember finally going, oh, this is stuff I really want to read. I can chew on it, but I don’t necessarily have to read a bunch of words to be really moved.
Bianca Schulze: I’ve always been a fan of the Persian poet Rumi, but I’ve never owned any of his work. The Rumi references in Wave changed that because I now own a copy of The Essential Rumi.
Diana Farid: Oh, my gosh. That’s so great.
Bianca Schulze: So, will you talk about any conscious choices that you made about including Rumi snippets throughout?
Diana Farid: Yes. I’m so excited that you bought that book. So that specific translation that I think you have is The Essential Rumi, translated by Coleman Barks.
Bianca Schulze: That’s the one.
Diana Farid: So I came upon that book when I was in college, studying at Berkeley, and I started reading that book. And it’s the time in my life in which I was able to then hold a book of Rumi’s poetry and actually read it, as opposed to a book that I saw on our coffee table or on a bookshelf that was written not in a language that I could read, which was Farsi.
So I was excited to see what all the hubbub was about finally. I marked passages that I thought were really moving and beautiful; I fell in love with them. And the ideas sometimes spoke to really practical things like food and eating. But, you know, he’s a deeply spiritual thinker. And so that exploration, of course, for many of us in college, in our young adulthood, is really vital and interesting. And then, you know, it wasn’t part of my life per se as much since then. I dove into medical school and medical training. But of course, I kept the book.
As I was writing, probably before I started writing it, I felt it was important to thread in some of the beautiful truths that his writing brings up. Since the character that I wanted to explore had a background like mine, which was a Persian immigrant background into the United States, I thought it would be a lovely way to introduce, reintroduce myself to that wisdom and see how that spoke to some of the things I was going through.
And also a wonderful way to bring up one of these contributions that Persian literature has brought into the world since then. Since I was in college, it was around that time that Rumi maybe started to become a little more mainstream and, some would even say, potentially westernized. So now that it’s even more mainstream, you can look up little quotes that may have been attributed to him online, and some of them may or may not be his. But I thought it was a really wonderful opportunity to showcase that.
The way that I decided to thread it through is Bianca; I actually own now multiple translations of his work, but that specific one was translated so beautifully and in a way that was really accessible that I felt like Coleman Barks’ translation would be really wonderful to use in Wave. And there were, to my wonderment and pleasurable surprise, a number of quotes where he references the ocean and waves and what helps us, what is part of our intrinsic value and worth.
And there’s a funny story behind this because, of course, I had to seek permission from Coleman Barks to use these quotes, and I went down this rabbit hole of being in touch with folks at HarperCollins and all of this stuff. Well, it ends up Coleman Barks still has the copyright, and they asked me to go ahead and just seek his permission directly. It’s such a funny story. I have now spoken to Mr. Barks three or four times on the phone. It’s such a wonderful connection I’ve been able to express to him. I read your work in college. It was incredibly moving. Thank you. And he was so generous and allowed me to use these quotes
One of my favorites that touches on both Waves and When You Breathe, and that theme of the light that we ultimately breathe in and are made of is this one—is it okay if I read it to you?
Bianca Schulze: Go for it. Yes.
Diana Farid: The universe and the light of the stars come through me.
That’s one of the quotes that I had underlined. It’s almost like a little affirmation that is so profound and moving. So Coleman allowed me to use that in the book and a few others, and I think they’re really nice additions to how we can find the beauty in the things that are part of our parents’ lives and kind of make them our own.
Bianca Schulze: Yeah. I have two separate thoughts that are popping in. So the first one I’m going to say is that that particular quote also, for me, speaks self-worth. You know, when you can see the stars within you, you believe in yourself. But the second thing that came into my mind, through your conversations with Coleman Barks and him permitting you to include his translations of Rumi’s poems, do you know if he has read Wave?
Diana Farid: Oh, yeah, that’s such a good question. He hasn’t yet. He hasn’t. I’m going to send him a copy. Right now, I only have one precious copy in my hands of the final edition of the final print. He hasn’t yet read it, but I have described what it’s about to him. And he knows he knows the sort of summary of, in general, that it’s about a 13-year-old girl, but he hasn’t yet read it. And I am so excited to send him a copy. I can’t wait.
Bianca Schulze: Yeah, that’s so special. So I have more questions about your writing, but since you’re talking about the precious copy you have in your hands, I need to bring some attention to Honolulu-based fine artist—I hope I say this correctly—Kris Goto. The cover that was created, along with the little scattered illustrations throughout, I love the pink, purple and blue color palette. So I just want to know how the cover made you feel. Because for me, I knew I was going to love your story just from the moment I saw the cover.
Diana Farid: Oh, gosh. Yeah. Isn’t the cover just gorgeous? Thank you for bringing that up. The inspiration was sort of this Southern California sunset.
What is so beautiful about the illustrator Kris’s work here is that she has weaved in this Hawaiian aesthetic of line drawings, waves, bubbles, and surfing. She’s also a surfer. And if you look a little bit more closely at the cover, in addition to the gorgeous purple, pink, yellow Southern California sunset, are the bubbles that come off of the back of the surfboard. The waves are made up of the typical bubbles you would think of, sort of these circular shapes. Still, then within that, there are these motifs of Persian flowers and designs inspired by motifs that I shared with my publisher in Persian rugs, in engravings.
Those bubbles made of these Persian motifs emphasize this sort of coming together even more beautifully—potentially of multiple worlds into this one gorgeous ride. The bubbles of the water, the bubbles of being immersed in these cultures, poetry and music, and that juxtaposition of the white and crisp blue bubbles against that sunset. It blew me away.
And then the shape of this tween on a board kind of having her ride. I’ve never seen a cover like this. It’s just really spectacular. It speaks to the aesthetic and the artistic nuance that Cameron and Kids, the publisher, is really good at bringing to life. So I’m just I’m thrilled with it. I was blown away and I cried. I just cried when I saw it.
Bianca Schulze: Yeah. I would have cried, too, if that was the cover for my book. It really is gorgeous. I’m glad I asked you because now I have to go back and look at the bubbles—knowing all of that information.
I have a call-in question from a child reader that feels like it needs to fit in right here since we’re talking about surfing. So I’m going to hit play.
Lola: Hi, I’m Lola and I’m ten years old. I’m writing a story where one of the characters likes surfing. And since your book has characters that like to surf, I’m wondering if you know how to surf too? Thank you.
Diana Farid: Oh my gosh, hearing that child’s voice was so wonderful. I didn’t fully catch her name.
Bianca Schulze: Lola.
Diana Farid: Lola, thank you so much for taking the time to ask that question. And first of all, congratulations on writing and congratulations on exploring a surfer character. I’m so happy for you. I probably won’t have a chance to read it, but I am rooting for you. I’m so excited you are exploring that.
I was a surfer. I grew up boogie boarding and fell in love with the idea of surfing. Gosh, to stand on a wave. And Lola, when I was about 11, I started buying a magazine called Surfer Magazine. And not only did I look at the pictures and study what the position was like of the surfer on the wave and the feeling that that person must have had as they rode down the wave, I read every single article. I devoured those magazines and eventually, my mom let me buy a used surfboard.
When I was 13, I bought a used blue and white surfboard from one of the kids at my middle school that surfed and convinced my mom, after a lot of begging, probably to drive me down to one of the local surf spots where I met this friend. He gave me some pointers and taught me how to surf. And I probably surfed for about a year. But Lola, I was not any good. I rode the waves after the waves broke, but I still loved it. I still love the water. I, unfortunately, don’t even have that board anymore.
So since then, I have surfed on and off, but not regularly. I would love to pick it back up, but there was a time in my life, the same age that Ava is in the book that I did surf.
Bianca Schulze: Okay, so I see a lot of different connections between yourself and Ava. You love music just as she does. There’s also the theme of her mom being a surgeon and wanting her to grow up and possibly be a doctor. And so I know that you’re a physician at Stanford University. So let’s just talk briefly about what your writing practice looks like? Because if you’re a full-time physician, how do you make this work? And how does connecting with being a physician help you with your writing?
Diana Farid: Those are great questions. So, how I make it work, Bianca, is I’m not in a full-time position. There was a time in my life when I was, and I very quickly realized that there were other things that I also wanted to spend my time doing. So for the majority of my years practicing medicine, I’ve been a part-time physician, and I have been working at the Student Health Center here on Stanford’s campus since 2012, the end of 2012. So quite a while, but I don’t do it every day. So that is one of the ways in which I can make time for writing.
And the other thing to know about me is, you know, I have four kids—so I also spend a lot of time caring for them, of course, and the household. And that’s a decision I made quite a while ago. So in terms of just the logistics of making it happen, that’s how I make it happen.
The other part of it, though, I wrote even when I was working more—it just wasn’t as much. Since my childhood, what has become clear to me, but even more so since I’ve been a physician, is how important it is for my health—and a lot of other people’s health—to have a creative space. To have time to work through and process feelings and emotions and just have fun.
The way that being a physician has helped me write is one of the most difficult things. And one of the most beautiful things of being a physician is getting to immediately be part of somebody’s often most difficult times, and of course, that often has to do with their body. But it could also be a mental or emotional need as well. And being so close to experiencing illness or something that might make one more aware of their mortality or even watching somebody pass makes me very conscious of that part of my own life and the kinds of things I want to explore in my writing.
And so it’s like this very quick wake-up call to every day having an opportunity to realize what’s important and what makes life meaningful.
I am living in a place at Stanford and in the community that I see at my children’s school where we are just so focused on technology, you know, teaching our kids how to program computers and how to type. And that’s wonderful and necessary. And I have seen that focus in some ways be a skill to help people and be a tool. But sometimes, I wonder if we need to do even more exploration as to not only the language of machines but kind of what is the language of our bodies? What is the language of our workings?
And so, even beyond exploring mortality and meaning when I sit with a patient. For example, Bianca, when they don’t understand how their lungs work or why I’m prescribing a certain inhaler and how it might affect their breathing or something about how their digestive system is processing and maybe why they’re feeling a certain symptom. I get a little sad that that’s not something that was part of their education before. There’s this opportunity lost. We should be learning about how to program computers.
But I think we also need to understand how we are programmed and how our bodies function. Which is part of the reason I wrote When You Breathe, but also the emotions. I really want to explore what it is not only to make a living, which might be like programming a computer but also what gives the work that we do in our lives meaning. So the writing helps me process all of that and allows me to create what I might want to say to my patients or what I might want to have a conversation about with my children. It really helps me focus on the power of storytelling.
The other thing, Bianca, if I have a moment to say this, is I’ve discovered in my work as a physician and as a public health expert that numbers don’t often, and facts don’t often move people, you know. We know from our scientific research and in behavioral science studies that it’s really story, it’s really emotional connection to people and things we care about that ultimately move us, that ultimately motivate us to make a change that’s better for our health or to try to transform our lives in some way, or to try to make the world a better place or more equitable or more just. And so that power is something I’m really excited about and want to tap into.
Bianca Schulze: I love that connection you have just made between your two different careers. You’ve given me a lot to like take in. I can’t wait to go back and listen to your answer again. So do you have any, before we go, any specific hopes for the book when it reaches the reader’s hands? Or is there anything else you want our listeners to know before we go?
Diana Farid: Yeah, ultimately, I want listeners to know and readers of Wave to know that the story of Ava in Wave is a story about all of us. It’s a story about [discovering] what it is that helps us get through. And I really would love to explore with my readers what is it that gets them through? What things make them feel so absorbed into another space they forget themselves and feel like they’re part of everything? Kind of like that feeling of when you look up at the sky at night. I want them to know that they’re not alone in that feeling of wanting to belong. There is a space in which they belong and that that’s shared.
And then the other thing that I really think is valuable about one of the themes in Wave is that we all have a truth and art that we have the opportunity to share. And it may not be a traditional art. It’s any of those things that might make us feel connected to the world and one another. But if we don’t share it, the rest of the world won’t have an understanding of that person’s experience—of my reader’s experience. And it’s such a wonderful opportunity for all of us if we share each other’s beauty and truths and art with one another. There are so many fun things that we can see. There are so many new things we can learn.
There’s this concept, an allegory, or—I’m sorry, it’s probably not the right word—there’s a story told in Middle Eastern culture in particular. I think there are a lot of cultures that have it. A bunch of blind mice or people, they’re touching different parts of an elephant. They’re saying what an elephant actually feels like. The person feeling the trunk says, no, the elephant feels like a long, hard tube, and the person feeling the body says, no, it feels like a big flat mass. Another person feels the ears and says, no, it’s thin and flappy. I want to hear what everybody has to say about their experience in this world because I want to get a big sense of the elephant and the truth of the elephant.
I really want readers to take away that their story matters, their experience matters. And I hope that they express it because it not only will help them have an understanding of their worth and belonging in this world, but it will help all of us really understand all of ourselves better.
Bianca Schulze: That’s amazing. Beautiful response. So, Diana, it has been an absolute pleasure talking to you. I just hope that our conversation inspires our listeners to go and grab a copy of Wave pronto. Because honestly, as I said at the beginning of our chat, my heart has not felt the way it did over a middle-grade novel for a long time. It’s beautiful.
Diana Farid: Thank you so much. That’s just brought tears to my eyes. And it’s been so wonderful being able to connect with you today.
About the Book
Written by Diana Farid
Illustration by Kris Goto
Ages 10+ | 320 Pages
Publisher: Cameron Kids | ISBN-13: 9781951836580
Publisher’s Synopsis: A coming-of-age novel in verse set in 1980s Southern California, about a Persian American girl who rides the waves, falls, and finds her way back to the shore.
Thirteen-year-old Ava loves to surf and to sing. Singing and reading Rumi poems settle her mild OCD, and catching waves with her best friend, Phoenix, lets her fit in—her olive skin looks tan, not foreign. But then Ava has to spend the summer before ninth grade volunteering at the hospital, to follow in her single mother’s footsteps to become a doctor. And when Phoenix’s past lymphoma surges back, not even surfing, singing, or poetry can keep them afloat, threatening Ava’s hold on the one place and the one person that make her feel like she belongs. With ocean-like rhythm and lyricism, Wave is about a girl who rides the waves, tumbles, and finds her way back to the shore.
Buy the Book
Visit Diana Farid at https://dianafarid.com/
When You Breathe, by Diana Farid
The Essential Rumi, Translated by Coleman Barks
Surfer Magazine: https://www.surfer.com/
Thank you for listening to the Growing Readers Podcast episode: Diana Farid Discusses Wave. For the latest episodes from The Growing Readers Podcast, Follow Now on Spotify. For similar books and articles, you can check out all of our content tagged with Books Written in Verse, Coming of Age, Grief, Middle Grade Books, Singing, and Surfing Books.