Category Archives: BOOK REVIEWS

‘GRAVITY’ BY TRACEY POUEU-GUERRERO

‘Gravity’ is the first instalment in Tracey Poueu-Guerrero’s Michaels Family Series. This is a coming of age love story that centres around Eva, a young sporty girl from California, and her journey of growing up and self-discovery.

GRAVITY

Summary

Being the youngest child and an only girl in the family is not easy. Always surrounded by her protective brothers, Eva doesn’t even think about boys. A tomboy with no girlfriends, she keeps busy doing what she does best – playing sports.

Eva’s life changes when she meets him – the boy of her dreams. Colton Banks quickly becomes part of the Michaels family and Eva’s best friend; the only friend she has ever had.

As the years go by, both Eva and Colton discover that what they feel for each other is more than just friendship. And although they fight hard to suppress their attraction, the pull becomes impossible to resist.

Review

‘Gravity’ is a young adult read filled with passion, romance, teenage angst, and – here’s the part that may be surprising to you – wisdom. Yes, Tracey Poueu-Guerrero managed to create a relatable story for young people that’s not only enjoyable, but also inspiring and brilliantly thought-provoking.

Although the novel may seem like your typical boy-meets-girl tale, it is not conventionally or trivially romantic. Of course, you may predict right from the beginning that the two main characters will eventually end up together (no surprises here), but what happens along the way is completely unforeseeable.

The love story, which you would think is the central element of the book, at times constitutes just a background for other plots. There is a lot about Eva’s journey from a self-conscious teenager to a self-confident young woman, a good deal about her relationship with her overprotective brothers, a little about her search for her cultural identity. Every chapter adds another layer to the narrative, making it head in directions that are constantly and wonderfully unexpected.

Especially intriguing is the way the author portrayed the theme of Eva’s ethnicity. Part Polynesian, part white Californian girl, Eva struggles to find her identity. Her looks (tan skin, curly hair, generous bum) may give away her island origin, but she knows nothing about her heritage. Thanks to her friend, she gets introduced to the Samoan culture. She meets people who look like her; she discovers the language; she learns about the country her grandfather came from. And she finally starts feeling ‘at home with herself’.

Eva’s journey of self-discovery gives readers wonderful insights into the Samoan world. We get to know it through Eva’s and Colton’s eyes – and I must say that’s a very interesting perspective.

Speaking of Eva and Colton… Everybody knows that no story can exist without characters. If they are well-crafted, they add an extra spark to a tale. Tracey Poueu-Guerrero developed unbelievably believable, round, and dynamic protagonists whom young people can easily identify with. But the real strength of this novel lies in the minor characters – mainly Eva’s brothers and friends. They not only complement the leading pair but are also stars on their own.

‘Gravity’ is a great read. It is well constructed, compelling, and filled to the brim with all the drama teenagers and young adults often have to deal with. If you have a daughter, son, younger sibling – this book will make a perfect Christmas gift for them. Just bear in mind that it contains some explicit language and sexual situations, so it may not be suitable for ages under 15.

‘PACIFIC TSUNAMI GALU AFI’ BY LANI WENDT YOUNG

‘Pacific Tsunami Galu Afi’ is an account of the 2009 Pacific Tsunami that hit the countries of Samoa, American Samoa, and Tonga on September, 29th. It was penned by a Samoan writer, Lani Wendt Young.

GALU AFI

Summary

The morning of September 29th is like any other day in Samoa. Some people are getting ready for work, others are still asleep. They don’t know yet that their lives are soon going to change forever.

At 6.48 a.m. the earth begins to tremble; violently. Things are falling off the shelves; coconuts are falling off the trees; rocks are falling off the cliffs. A short while later, the sirens can be heard blaring out.

Most people, busy with their morning routines, don’t even notice the ocean receding. But the birds know. They know something is coming, so they take off. They take off before the first black wave starts rushing to the shore.

Review

Imagine you’re watching one of those Hollywood-made disaster drama films. You know, the films with an all-star cast, great special effects, and a story that keeps you on the edge of your seat biting your nails in fear, excitement, or both. The films you’re watching thanking God it’s only a film. Well, ‘Galu Afi’ is such a film; only on paper.

You may think that this is just a book that recounts the tragic events of September 29th, 2009, but I can already tell you that it is not. This book is so much more. It shows us what’s really important in life. It proves that people can act like brothers, not enemies; that we can count on one another when the bad times come. It is, contrary to appearances, an unbelievably uplifting read; one that will stay in your head long after the book is closed.

Lani Wendt Young was given a tough job of putting together dozens of heartbreaking stories to document the disaster for Samoa and its people. It would be all too easy to create a volume full of sorrowful narratives, but she managed to avoid excessive sentimentality. Yes, the presented accounts are moving, poignant, at times even disturbing – and you might shed a tear or two. But you will also smile, because they are often laced with subtle, appropriate humour only Lani Wendt Young can deliver.

The emotions ‘Galu Afi’ evokes give you a true roller-coaster ride, largely due to the fact that you don’t stay in one story for a very long time. It seems as if the author had wanted all the voices to be heard. You meet one family, then you meet another, and another. There are so many characters, yet somehow you remember them all. You feel for them, admire them, wonder at their strength and resilience. And when you see their faces in the photographs, their tales become even more real. Suddenly you realize that this is not some Hollywood story, and that not everyone has a happy ending.

The book is written in a simple yet elegant style. Lani Wendt Young doesn’t show off her writing skills – she remains in the shadow, but she still gets to shine. The people’s voices are neatly stitched together with her own words, creating an absorbing read full of heart and soul.

Before I started reading ‘Galu Afi’, I had already known that Lani Wendt Young is an extraordinarily talented writer. But now I will say that she is a true literary artisan. This book isn’t good; it’s not even great. It can be described in one word only – a masterpiece. ‘Pacific Tsunami Galu Afi’ is a pure masterpiece.

‘ISLAND OF THE INVISIBLE BEING: BENJUA’S STORY’ BY MADELAIN WESTERMANN

‘Island of the Invisible Being: Benjua’s Story’ is a legend from the Marshall Islands written by Madelain Westermann and illustrated by Erin Johnson.

ISLAND OF THE INVISIBLE BEING

Summary

Despite being an obedient and hard-working child, Emon can’t please her parents. No matter what she does and how hard she tries, they seem to be never happy with her.

But one day they decide to take her to the Island of the Invisible Being to have a picnic. When Emon goes gather wood for the fire, her mother and father suddenly take off in a canoe, leaving the girl behind in a stranded place. Realizing the betrayal of her parents, Emon knows that no one will help her and that she can count only on herself.

Review

Children’s books need to tick off a lot of boxes in order to be considered worthy of the youngsters’ time. They must capture attention, tell a compelling story, carry a valuable lesson, and be pleasant on the eye. It may appear easy, but it’s a great art. If I tell you that Madelain Westermann’s ‘Island of the Invisible Being’ ticks off all these boxes (and more), I’m certain you will be interested.

It’s quite difficult to find a book Pacific children could relate to. Literature doesn’t like diversity or colour, which is regrettable and sad. A Samoan, Papuan, Chuukese child is more likely to spot a title about a strange creature from another planet than one about his or her fellow Islander. That’s why Emon’s story stands out from the crowd. The island setting, the Marshallese characters, and the local culture make it a fascinating read, I dare say not only for children from the Blue Continent.

As soon as you start reading, you are transported to the beautiful world of the Pacific Islands. Beautiful, enchanting, and a little mysterious. Young Emon introduces you to Marshallese traditions: you discover the art of basket weaving, learn what Islanders’ favourite food is, find out what was used to navigate the great Pacific Ocean. The Marshallese way of living is subtly entwined into the tale, leaving you curious to know more.

That curiosity is further aroused by stunning illustrations, which are a real delight for the eyes. Vibrant colours and an original way of portraying every scene bring the words to life, unfolding before you the magic of the islands. It is impossible not to look at the pages. The azure sky, dark blue waters, lush green vegetation make you literally stare at the pictures in awe.

Now, a good children’s book usually comes with a moral. The moral of this story is a great lesson and reminder for us all, regardless of age. Because how often do we let our fears overpower us? How often do we give up? How often do we take other people for granted? Each of the characters teaches us something different: Emon – that you have to be strong and always endure hardships with fortitude; her family – that selfishness, greed, and unkindness never pay; the Invisible Being – that justice is always served. Those are the truths that every child should know and every adult should remember.

Madelain Westermann and Erin Johnson have created a gem. It’s an utterly beautiful book with a valuable story that deserves its place in every home! Kids will absolutely love it. And so will their parents.

‘AFAKASI WOMAN’ BY LANI WENDT YOUNG

‘Afakasi Woman’ is a collection of twenty-four short stories penned by Lani Wendt Young. They are set in Samoa and centre around various women of mixed ethnicity.

AFAKASI WOMAN

Summary

In Samoa, every afakasi woman knows that life isn’t always a bed of roses. When you are too brown to be white and too white to be brown, there are challenges you have to face, hardships you have to endure, and tragedies you have to get through.

But women know how to be strong. They are able to withstand any storm that life throws at them. They can stand up, fight back, and show everyone around that the colour of your skin doesn’t determine who you really are.

Review

This compilation was written by Lani Wendt Young – one of the most gifted contemporary writers from the South Pacific – so you can be certain it is at least good, if not great. And I can already tell you, that if you decide to read it, you won’t be disappointed.

The book is titled ‘Afakasi Woman’. ‘Afakasi’ means ‘half caste’ and is used to describe a person of mixed ethnicity. You might think, therefore, that the themes explored in the volume will appeal only to half-palagi (white), half-Samoan ladies. That only they will be able to relate to the stories. Well, that is the furthest from the truth. Of course, the collection is heavily infused with Samoan culture, but it can be enjoyed by females all over the world. Because the issues tackled in the book are so universal that every single woman will understand the message the author wanted to convey.

If you are familiar with Lani Wendt Young’s works, you know that she is never 100 percent serious or 100 percent light-hearted. ‘Afakasi Woman’ follows this beaten path, so in a matter of minutes you get to experience a vast array of emotions. Prepare yourself for a rollercoaster ride that will take you from laughing out loud at one lady’s curse and admiring  Sina’s strength to overcome her biggest fear, to almost weeping for a family torn apart and feeling sorry for Luana over the loss of her child. Not two stories are alike. Some are heavily-themed with violence, abuse, death; others are loaded with a witty sense of humour. But there is something they all have in common – they were created with a purpose. Lani Wendt Young never writes about trifles. She brings up important, often sensitive topics other people prefer not to notice. Even the light-hearted narratives are thought-provoking – they may be coated in humour, but the message is there.

The stories are excellently crafted. The writing feels fresh, original, and very satisfying. Simple but descriptive language brings the scenes alive, allowing you to fully experience the written word. Vividness is definitely one of Lani Wendt Young’s biggest strengths. She knows how to create pictures that will not only appear in the reader’s imagination, but most importantly stay there long after the last page is turned.

‘Afakasi Woman’ is a beautiful portrait of female nature, movingly painted and laced with Samoan vibe. It’s hard not to think that it came into being to honour, support, and encourage women; to give them hope and show how strong and resilient they can be. It is a truly worthy read that I could not recommend more.

‘RELL GOES HAWAIIAN’ BY LEHUA PARKER

‘Rell Goes Hawaiian’ is a novella penned by Lehua Parker. It’s a newly imagined version of ‘Cinderella’ set in Lauele Town, Hawaii. It is included in ‘Fractured Slipper’ (‘Fairy Tale Ink Book 2’).

RELL GOES HAWAIIAN

Summary

When Rell comes to Hawaii with her stepmother, Regina, and two bratty and more-than-annoying stepsisters, she realizes it isn’t to celebrate her 18th birthday. Instead of having fun, she needs to sign papers, take care of her stepsiblings, and do whatever Regina tells her to do.

The girl’s life changes immeasurably when her stepsisters push the sacred aumakua stone into the saltwater pool at Piko Point. Suddenly, with a little help from a special wagging friend, Rell gets more that she has ever wished for.

Review

A contemporary ‘Cinderella’ story set in tropical Hawaii? Why not! You would think that this clichéd theme couldn’t result in anything interesting. After all, we all know how the tale goes. But in this case, you may get slightly surprised.

First and foremost, this novella takes readers back to Lauele Town, so well-known from Lehua Parker’s Niuhi Shark Saga. You get the chance to catch up with the old characters – uncle Kahana, Ilima, Jerry Santos, Tuna to name a few – and get to know them better or see them in a different light. Bringing back individuals from previous novels is always a treat for loyal fans. Especially if the author makes sure to further develop their storylines or add some extra layers to their personalities. What has Jerry, the surfer who witnessed Jay’s accident in the ocean, been doing? Is uncle Kahana still the guiding spirit of local community? And what about Ilima? Could she act as a fairy godmother? Obviously, she could (in Lauele Town, anything is possible), but don’t expect her to be that I-am-here-to-make-your-dreams-come-true type of a godparent. She has her own hidden agenda. Plus, with four legs and a tail she just couldn’t be your ordinary fairy, could she?

Along with the old characters, a few new ones make an appearance. Typically for a fairy tale, there are heroes and villains – and in this case it is not hard to guess who is who. Rell and Regina, the two new introductions and main characters in this story, are plausible and decently crafted, but perhaps too obvious as ‘symbols’; they lack a little bit of substance. But let’s bear in mind this is a novella, so not everything can be achieved.

Now, while the overall plot is somewhat predictable, the specific scenes are not. There are quite a few surprises thrown in, and I have to say they really keep things interesting. Even though you can foresee the ending, you are not able to guess the sequence of events that lead to it. Add to this a tropical island setting, traditional Hawaiian folklore, and a Polynesian vibe, and you get the best Cinderella tale possible.

Reading this story is a pure pleasure. It is a very engaging and even more enjoyable piece of literature, chock-full of Aloha spirit and effortless wisdom, which make it perfect for children and adults alike. So visit Lauele Town; I promise, you won’t regret doing so.

‘NANI’S KISS’ BY LEHUA PARKER

‘Nani’s Kiss’ is a novella written by Lehua Parker. It’s a sci-fi story loosely based on ‘Beauty and the Beast’. It’s featured in a boxed eBook set called ‘Fractured Beauty’ (‘Fairy Tale Ink Book 1’).

NANI'S KISS

Summary

Nani has always known that one day she will marry Arjun. Even though she doesn’t know him very well, even though she is not sure she really loves him, she understands this is her destiny. Their parents arranged it a long time ago and Nani must fulfill their wishes. If only it was so simple. Unfortunately, it isn’t.

Arjun is dying. Since he collapsed, he has been locked in stasis in a medi-mod. What if he doesn’t survive? What will happen to their future? Risking everything, Nani is desperate to bring her fiancé back to life.

Review

Is it possible to write a futuristic story anchored in traditional cultures? You have to admit, it is no mean feat. Lehua Parker dared try to do just that. And I think it’s safe to say she has succeeded.

‘Nani’s Kiss’ is a sci-fiction version of ‘Beauty and the Beast’ (only the beast is not who you expect it is), which takes from Hawaiian and Indian cultures. It’s a rather unusual mix and one that can be easily ruined. But Lehua Parker managed to keep the right proportions of all the elements, thanks to which the novella makes an interesting read.

The storyline engages the reader right from the beginning, and as it evolves you become more and more curious as to what will happen next. The unforeseen twists and turns keep you riveted and don’t let you get bored even for a short while. However, they also require your undivided attention.

I have to warn you that this novella is not the easiest to read. If you want to follow the plot, you really have to concentrate on the words. There are a lot of fictional names of characters and places you may simply have trouble keeping in mind. They make the story slightly confusing, which for some readers may be a minor put off.

The characters themselves are incredibly well-built for such a short tale. They are believable, and we must remember that the novella takes place in the future, and easy to relate to. With their hopes, dreams, and fears, they are like ordinary human beings. And despite the fact that their backgrounds are not as clearly shown as we would all want, you get the feeling that you know their past quite well.

Now, although the story isn’t set in Hawaii, the local customs and practices are very noticeable. Especially the tradition of tattooing. But forget about permanent drawings here. In the world the author has created, nano-bot tattoos appear and then dissolve, only to reappear on a different part of a person’s body. The images they form reveal the intimate secrets of one’s heart and soul, and for a novice are impossible to hide.

The idea – a brilliant idea – of giving a futuristic twist to one of the oldest Polynesian traditions shows how the past can connect with the future. It also reminds us that some things in life should never be forgotten.

‘Nani’s Kiss’ is without a doubt a very interesting novella. The concept is truly fascinating, so I am positive you won’t feel let down when you give it a try. I definitely recommend it!

‘THE DESCENDANTS’ BY KAUI HART HEMMINGS

‘The Descendants’ is Kaui Hart Hemmings’s debut novel. Set in Hawaii, it tells the tragic story of the King family.

THE DESCENDANTS

Summary

Matthew King’s life couldn’t be more idyllic: he lives in paradise, has a wonderful family, is a descendant of Hawaiian royalty and one of the state’s largest landowners. A true picture-perfect postcard. Only it isn’t.

The only paradise Matt knows is the paradise of the Queen’s Hospital; his wonderful family consists of a wife in a coma and two out-of-control, attention-seeking daughters; and the land he co-owns will soon get sold to property developers.

This difficult situation is made worse by Matt’s sudden discovery that his loving wife was having an extramarital affair. Deciding to find Joanie’s lover, Matt takes his daughters on a journey none of them will ever forget.

Review

When your debut novel can easily be called a masterpiece, you must be an extraordinarily talented person. This title proves it and leaves no one in doubt that Kaui Hart Hemmings is a writer whose books are worth anyone’s time and attention.

With such a grim subject matter – ideal for pompous melodrama – it would be all too easy to fall into tired clichés or to succumb to an overly solemn tone, leaving readers on the verge of tears every two pages or so. But Kaui Hart Hemmings managed to avoid sentimentality, and instead of making readers cry, she often makes them laugh. Yes, laugh. But how can you laugh when someone is dying? Well, sometimes the most serious points are best made through wit and humour. Sure, you may say the novel is irreverent. I say it simply oozes plausibility.

The fact that the story is so believable is also largely down to the well-crafted main characters. Matt may be a successful lawyer, but he is less than successful as a father. Left in sole charge of his daughters, he needs to quickly learn how to be a parent. His struggles are real, because – contrary to what you usually hear and see – parenting doesn’t always come naturally. Matt doesn’t even pretend to know what to do. He seems just as lost as the two teenagers he has under his care.

And, this needs to be said, 10-year-old Scottie and her older sister Alex are not exactly the parents’ little angel type of kids. They are rebellious, troublesome, unruly, and defiant. But they are also in great need of love and attention. Full of insecurities, they want to feel safe and understood; they want to feel valued.

The portrayal of both Scottie and Alex is exceptional. Kaui Hart Hemmings wonderfully brought out the girls’ personalities. From their behaviours to the idiosyncratic ways of talking, she really captured their characters as well as the change they underwent.

Now, despite ‘The Descendants’ being mainly the story of the King family, the author didn’t fail to incorporate Hawaii into the plot. The Aloha State is not only a setting; it’s a character in its own right. Forget Waikiki and pretty dancers in grass skirts. Welcome paradise that isn’t. Hawaii from Hemmings’s book is like any other place in the world; well, maybe with a little more blue sky and gently swaying palm trees. Crime, social issues, substance abuse… It’s all there. Add to this cultural matters, and you have a book in which Hawaii finally gets to be itself.

It is impossible not to marvel at this novel. It’s an engaging piece of literature, with flowing prose, credible characters, and a candid setting. The multi-layered storyline, packed with twists and turns, well-judged humour, and a plethora of emotions, won’t let you stop reading until you reach the final sentence. I could not recommend it more!

‘ONE TRUTH, NO LIE’ BY LEHUA PARKER

‘One Truth, No Lie’ is the third and final volume in Lehua Parker’s Niuhi Shark Saga. It brings the much-anticipated conclusion to the story of Zader, a not-so-average teenager from the Lauele Town, Hawaii.

ONE TRUTH NO LIE

Summary

After Zader finds out who his birth parents are, his whole life changes immeasurably. The boy just knows that nothing will ever be the same again. But what he doesn’t expect is the ultimatum he will be given by The Man With Too Many Teeth, otherwise known as uncle Kalei.

Kalei makes Zader choose to either use his own teeth to brutally save his brother Jay’s life but live in exile from his Hawaiian family or… let him murder Jay.

Zader’s decision leads him on a great journey of discovery. He learns who he really is and realizes what, and who, truly matters to him.

Review

Let me start by saying right off the bat that this third volume of the Niuhi Shark Saga is just as good as its two predecessors. It is the perfect conclusion to the whole story and one that will stay in your head for days, making you think about your own life, the choices you make, and the importance of having a loving ohana (family).

I have to admit that the events in this novel took me by surprise. The first few chapters literally hit you like a thunderbolt, and you quickly realize that you probably won’t be able to predict what happens next. And you indeed can’t. The twists and turns are infinite. When you think you know in which direction the story is heading, the plot makes a sudden 180-degree turnaround and you are being left baffled; yet again. There is only one way to find out how the story turns out – you have to keep reading until you reach the last sentence. Which is not a problem, because the narrative draws you in from the very beginning. You become curious and interested, you want to know more. And you simply enjoy spending time in the magical world Lehua Parker has created.

Another reason why the book is so engaging are the characters. Zader, as the protagonist in the trilogy, is the focus of the story. His transformation from a teenager to a responsible young man is perhaps a little too idealistic, but definitely nicely portrayed. You can notice how he has changed from an insecure boy to a brave grown-up; how he has learnt to make choices and decisions and rely only on himself. That’s a great lesson, for children and adults alike.

Other characters are also given moments to shine. Especially Jay, who shows us how to fight through adversity, find positive in life, and never ever give up; and Maka, who lets us understand what it means to finally have something you’ve always wanted to have – a real family. Of course, uncle Kahana, Char Siu, Kalei, Pua, ‘Ilima, and the rest of the group make appearances as well, however they are much less visible than in the two previous volumes.

With this book Lehua Parker once again showed us her enormous talent. Her writing style and the language she uses are beyond compare. Everything – from descriptions to dialogues to wit and sense of humour – is perfectly dosed. Personally, I would prefer to see a bit more Pidgin in each chapter, but that’s not really a reason to complain. I have to say that you read Lehua Parker’s novels with pure pleasure. Whenever you finish one of her books, you instantly want to reach for another.

In the review of the first volume of the Niuhi Shark Saga I confessed that I don’t like children or young adult literature. But this trilogy is an exception. It will make you laugh. It will make you cry. It will make you think. What can you want more?

‘ONE SHARK, NO SWIM’ BY LEHUA PARKER

‘One Shark, No Swim’, written by Lehua Parker, is the second book in the Niuhi Shark Saga. It brings back the story of Zader and his Hawaiian ohana.

ONE SHARK NO SWIM

Summary

Life has been pretty good for Zader. With a little help from his uncle Kahana, he has learnt to manage his strange water allergy; the Blalahs has stopped bullying him; he got accepted into the prestigious Ridgemont Academy; and his brother Jay has taken up surfing again. Everything seems perfect; only it’s not.

Something keeps bugging Zader. The teenager can’t stop thinking about his dreams and new obsessions. Why is his mind preoccupied with knives? Why does he yearn for raw meat? And who are Dream Girl and The Man with Too Many Teeth? What do they want? No one gives the young boy any answers, even though there are people in Zader’s life who could probably unravel all the mysteries.

Review

Writing sequels is a very challenging task. You have to not only expand the story, but also – or rather more importantly – keep it interesting for the readers. And children, as well as young adults, can be a particularly demanding audience. But for Lehua Parker this seems to be no problem. The second book in the Niuhi Shark Saga is just as good as the first one.

Quite honestly, this volume doesn’t really feel like a sequel. It is simply a continuation of the tale; only this time you go deeper into the world the author has created. Now you are almost like a resident of Lauele Town, who dines at Hari’s and goes surfing at Piko Point every other day. You know the people, you know the place. And you are well aware that there is something going on with one of your neighbours, so you’re dying to finally uncover the truth.

‘One Shark, No Swim’ answers a lot of questions the reader might have had after finishing the previous volume. Zader’s past becomes clearer as new, and interesting, facts come to light. However, if you think that all the pieces in the puzzle will fall neatly into place before you reach the end, you are very much mistaken. Because with every single answer, more questions arise. Who? What? Why? When? Where? You may try to guess, you may try to predict what happens next, but you can’t bank on it. And that is the true beauty of this series.

Now, as the plot unfolds, you become more acquainted with the characters. In this book, Zader leads the way. He is a true protagonists, a central figure of the narrative. And although the story isn’t told entirely in the first person, you see the world through Zader’s eyes. You start to understand what he feels being a ‘different’ kid. You sympathize for him and cheer all the louder when he’s one step closer to discovering his true nature.

Of course, when mentioning the characters, you can’t forget about Zader’s family, especially uncle Kahana. This no-nonsense, wise, and funny old guy, sometimes treated like a big baby by his relatives, is a real star. Himself a man of many secrets, he is a mentor, a teacher, a protector, and a guardian of ancient Hawaiian culture. His complex persona makes him a little unknowable and therefore very intriguing. I wouldn’t mind having an uncle like Kahana, and I think you wouldn’t either.

The engaging plot and great characters are wrapped in beautiful words. Lehua Parker’s writing style is so fine that you can’t help but marvel at what she has created. It is not easy to write a novel that would suit children and adults alike. And yet she managed. The informal language (with an added bonus in the form of Hawaiian and Pidgin), vivid but not overwhelming descriptions, and a perfect dose of humour make this book an ideal read for any age group. No one will get bored, no one will be disappointed. It’s a title for the whole family. But be careful! It is possible that you will fight for the copy, so better buy two; or maybe even three… Just in case.

If you have read the first volume in the Niuhi Shark Saga, you literally have no choice but to read this one too. If you haven’t, you should catch up as soon as possible. Because the books are fantastic. Period.

‘ONE BOY, NO WATER’ BY LEHUA PARKER

‘One Boy, No Water’ is the first volume in Lehua Parker’s Niuhi Shark Saga – a young adult magic realism trilogy set in modern Hawaii. It tells the story of a boy named Zader and his family.

ONE BOY NO WATER

Summary

Zader, a thirteen-year-old boy, was adopted by the Westin family when he was just a baby. Being allergic to water, he is living in his brother Jay’s shadow, on whom he relies to keep him safe from the bully Blalahs.

When Jay, a rising surfing star, shows off his impressive skills on the board, Zader sits above the beach doing what he does best – sketching. No one is aware that Zader has secrets; only his uncle Kahana seems to know more about the boy and his past than he’s willing to share.

Review

I’ll tell you something about myself: I don’t like children’s or Middle Grade/Young Adult books almost as much as I don’t like fantasy/magic realism genre. I decided to give the Niuhi Shark Saga a chance exclusively because it is Pacific Lit. I bought the three titles, but I was still quite (or rather very) sceptical. But then I read a few pages. And a few more. And suddenly I was officially hooked.

So yes, I admit, this is a fantastic book. Lehua Parker wrote a beautiful tale full of magic and authentic Hawaiian vibe. She managed to bring the local legends back to life, giving readers – young and adult alike – a chance to get to know the Aloha State and its fascinating culture. Actually, the references to Hawaiian lore are what makes this novel stand out! It doesn’t deal with werewolves, vampires, or wizards – so omnipresent in today’s popular literature – but draws from the ancient beliefs. So we have sharks, and ti leaves, and the mysterious Hawaiian martial art of Kapu Kuialua (which is considered sacred and taught underground since the mid-1800s). All this definitely makes the story feel fresh, unique, original. And isn’t that exactly what we expect from a good book?

Now, although the novel is somewhat focused on Hawaiian culture, it has several underlying themes that teach valuable lessons, as befits children’s and Young Adult literature. Together with Zader and Jay, readers learn how important it is to have family you can always count on, to do what is right, to overcome your fears, to respect the nature, and to never forget where you come from. You can’t run and hide from your problems; be bold and brave; whatever happens in your life – face it! This is such an inspiring message for young people, who often struggle to find their place. Zader’s and Jay’s experiences will surely give them courage, and uncle Kahana’s wise words the needed moral guidance.

Speaking of uncle Kahana, I have to praise the characters. They are unbelievably well created and defined. From Zader and Jay to Char Siu and the Blalahs to uncle Kahana (who is my favourite), every one of them is a distinct person with a distinct voice and personality. They are complex, plausible, and easy to identify with. They are like us: they make choices and decisions – sometimes good, sometimes bad; they have their dilemmas; they learn from their mistakes. They are ordinary people; ordinary in their extraordinariness.

Of course, it’s one thing to build strong characters, but it’s another to show the relationships between them. Lehua Parker succeeded in doing both. The interactions between Zader and his brother or uncle Kahana, the interactions between the teenagers, and finally the interactions between the adults are incredibly well thought over. They influence the story, making it much more convincing and compelling.

Do you know what else makes this novel so believable? The language – Hawaiian Pidgin, to be precise. You’ll find it in every single chapter and, quite possibly, on every single page. To people who don’t speak Pidgin (or Hawaiian), it may cause some problems, but there is a dictionary at the end of the book, so you can always use it. I think the addition of local creole was a genius idea. Well, you can’t really write a story set in Hawaii and have your characters say ‘Thank you’ instead of ‘Mahalo’, can you?

‘One Boy, No Water’ is a must read. If you have a youngster at home or are looking for a great gift, this should be your number one choice. Because this colourful island tale is engaging and appealing, thought-provoking and amusing, uplifting and wonderfully hopeful. It is like a breath of fresh Hawaiian air taken on a sunny day. Unforgettable and not to be missed. But, let me give you a piece of advice here, buy all three books at once – after the first volume you’ll be hooked; just like me.