Thursday, April 20, 2023

Where the Waves Turn Back by Tyson Motsenbocker Book Review

About the Book:

In this powerful memoir, following the death of his mother, Tyson Motsenbocker retraces the journey an 18th century priest took in this harrowing story of one man’s pilgrimage of healing and finding beauty and hope in tragedy.

After years on the road performing at sold-out venues, Tyson Motsenbocker returned home to the impending death of his 57-year-old hero and mother. He begged God to heal her, but she died anyway. When they buried her body, Tyson also buried the childhood version of his faith.

Shortly before her death, however, Tyson became intrigued by the complicated legacy of Father Junipero Serra, the 18th-century Franciscan monk and canonized saint who dedicated his life to the idea that tragedy and suffering are portals to renewal. Father Serra built Missions up and down the California coast, spreading Christianity, as well as enabling and aiding in the oppression and colonization of the native Californians. Tyson discovered Serra’s “El Camino Real,” a 600-mile pilgrimage route up the California coast that had been largely forgotten for more than 200 years.

Two days after they buried his mother, Tyson set out on a pilgrimage of sorts, intending to walk from San Diego to San Francisco along the El Camino, following in the footsteps of the saint. Tyson’s journey takes him down smog-choked highways, across fog-laden beaches, past multi-million-dollar coastal estates, and along the towering cliffs of Big Sur. And as he walks, Tyson also wrestles with his faith, questioning the pat answers and easy prayers he once readily accepted, trying to understand how hope and tragedy can all be wrapped up in the same God. The people he meets along the way challenge his understanding of the meaning of security, of what it means to live a meaningful life, and of the legacies we all leave behind.

Where the Waves Turn Back is both part journal and part spiritual memoir, and ultimately, a thrilling and deeply satisfying read that asks questions that will resonate with readers seeking meaning in an utterly disorienting age.

My Review:

I found Motsenbocker's book to be an interesting account of his journey. It is part travelogue, part verbatim conversations he had with those he met, and some reflective introspection from time to time. He includes observations on humanity, such as those who had left college and were living on beaches. His story is a reminder to pay attention to people and things as we go along our way.

While the book was published by what I would describe as a Christian publisher, I would not recommend it for Christians. Motsenbocker includes many conversations he had with people he met along the way and that means lots of foul language and alcohol consumption.

With respect to Motsenbocker's spiritual journey, he is unsure there is life after this one (213/2961). He initially only feels comfortable with a God who doesn't exist and if He does exist, has certainly failed him. (331/2961) Near the end of his journey Motsenbocker finally comes to accept that his mother is gone. Also, he has come to terms with a God who can be both kind and absent. (2803/2961) But maybe He wasn't absent, Motsenbocker thinks. He was just being patient.

Motsenbocker's writing style is quite choppy and factual. I felt the book could have used some editing. (An example: “...addressed to my sister and I...” (213/2961)) I think this book would appeal to millennials, younger readers who are satisfied with a physical and spiritual journey that culminates in an inconclusive view of God. Older readers like me might rather have a final spiritual message that included saving faith.

My rating: 3/5 stars.

About the Author:

Tyson Motsenbocker is a critically acclaimed singer- songwriter and composer from the Pacific Northwest. His audience has come to know him as a brilliant lyricist, unflinchingly honest and an artist who embraces vulnerability above all. After relocating to Southern California, Motsenbocker’s first album Letters to Lost Loves was praised internationally, including Best New Music and Songs We Love by NPR. Tyson’s 2020 release Someday I’ll Make it All Up to You was ranked as UTR’s best album of 2020. In the following years, Motsenbocker played for hundreds of thousands of people at famous and historic rooms, including Los Angeles’ Wilturn Theatre, San Francisco’s Filmore and Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium three times. Tyson’s recorded music has received millions of streams and has continued to garner high praise from music business tastemakers. This is his first book. You can find out more at

Worthy Books, 272 pages.

I received a complimentary egalley of this book from the publisher. My comments aare an independent and honest review.

(My star ratings: 5-I love it, 4-I like it, 3-It's OK, 2-I don't like it, 1-I hate it.

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