Tag Archives: Lehua Parker

A CHAT WITH… LEHUA PARKER

If you are Lehua Parker’s fan, you surely know about the two boxed sets that feature her novellas. What is more, you have probably already read them. Curious to find out what inspired Lehua to write the stories? Just read the interview.

LEHUA PARKER

Pasifika Tales: Why did you decide to take part in this project?

Lehua Parker: For the simplest of reasons: a friend asked me. Adrienne Monson is an author who writes paranormal romance. She asked if I’d be interested in writing five novellas based on classic fairy tales to go into boxed sets with five other authors. She had a publisher lined up who wanted wildly different genres. Novellas are about a third as long as novels, and so it seemed like something I could do around other projects.

PT: How big of a challenge was it for you?

LP: It was much harder than I anticipated. I’ve published short stories, plays, poetry, and novels; novellas are a different beast.  In ‘Nani’s Kiss’, I kept wanting to write either a much shorter or much longer story. To keep to the novella length, I had to gloss over a lot of background about the sci-fi setting and the Indian and Hawaiian cultural aspects. This required readers to do some heavy mental lifting to connect the dots – which they didn’t expect. Based on the book cover, it looked like all the stories would be fast, fluffy romances.

In ‘Rell Goes Hawaiian’, I made it a little easier on myself and the reader by setting the story in contemporary Hawaii and staying truer to the Cinderella fairy tale.

PT: Which novella was more fun to write?

LP: ‘Nani’s Kiss’ was fun because I had to do a lot of research about Indian Buddhist culture and had to imagine Polynesians voyaging through space. ‘Rell Goes Hawaiian’ was a blast because I got to revisit a world and characters I knew very well.  Originally, ‘Rell was set in Waikiki and she was a nanny for a rich family on vacation. But no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t get into that story. Finally, I gave myself permission to reimagined it in Lauele Town with Uncle Kahana, Ilima, and the rest of the gang and added cultural conflicts, a homecoming, and Hawaiian mythology. That’s when the fun began.

PT: You did not forget about incorporating Hawaiian / Polynesian cultures into the stories. Was it important to you to stay ‘faithful’ to your roots?

LP: Yes. There are thousands of authors who write romances and reimagined fairy tales for western readers. I want to write stories that resonate with a Pasifika audience. Last week, I was back in Hawaii, swimming in the ocean, eating too much, and poking around libraries and bookstores. It was discouraging to see how few titles are published about the Pasifika experience for a Pasifika audience. I get fan email from kids who are reading the Niuhi Shark Saga in school who tell me how excited they are to read Hawaiian and Pidgin words and to see characters just like people they know. So rather than write the same kind of story a thousand other authors are publishing, I try to write what’s in my heart, natoos, Poliahu’s house, and all.

PT: As you’ve mentioned, ‘Rell Goes Hawaiian’ is set in Lauele Town – a place known from the Niuhi Shark Saga. Why did you choose this particular setting?

LP: Firstly, because I wanted to write a new story for fans of the Niuhi series that continued a little bit after ‘One Truth, No Lie’.  Secondly, land ownership is a cultural concern in Hawaii. I only touched on this theme briefly in the Niuhi series when I explained why Lauele Town was so underdeveloped for such a highly desirable location on Oahu. As ‘Rell’ began to take shape, who controls, inherits, and uses land became a major theme. Lastly, I wanted to revisit beloved characters. Ilima as a fairy godmother simply cracked me up.

PT: Hawaiian culture is present in both novellas, but ‘Nani’s Kiss’ also draws from Indian culture. Where did this idea come from? 

LP: Before I wrote one word of ‘Nani’s Kiss’, I knew two things: the publisher wanted me to write a sci-fi story for the boxed set, and I wanted to somehow work Polynesian wayfinding into it. I needed an alien for the Beast. I was reading ‘Lincoln in the Bardo’ and started thinking about how the Bardo was a Buddhist place between death and rebirth. ‘What if’ questions poured out. Clashes between Hawaiian and Indian cultures and expectations, a galactic federation with debts owed, an ancient alien lifeform older than any other in existence, gender role expectations, alien communication dream sequences, Bardo sequences, reincarnation, a wicked Machiavellian stepmother – it was a lot to cram into a novella! I was so enamored by how the story was shaping up that I forgot it was supposed to be a retelling of ‘Beauty and the Beast’. In truth, it’s closer to a mash-up of Hawaiiana, Indian Buddhism, ‘Beauty and the Beast’, and ‘Sleeping Beauty’ plus a little too much late-night Diet Coke.

PT: I’d like to ask you about your plans. What can your fans expect from you in the near future?

LP: I have several irons in the fire. The one that’s closest to publication is the next Fractured series novella based on the ‘Little Mermaid’, which is about how Zader’s Niuhi mother Pua and human father Justin met.

Also in the writing queue is a middle grade novel with series potential about a critically ill Asian girl who escapes into a world where she’s an adventure hero called Roxie Sparkles.  Only she’s not. Another is a story about a part-Hawaiian teenage girl who comes to her grandmother’s house in Lauele because her father is in the military and on assignment to the Middle East. She discovers she can see all the ghosts and Hawaiian gods—and they want her to solve their problems. This one is set during the high school years Zader is away from Lauele Town and has all the characters from the Niuhi series – Uncle Kahana, Ilima, Jay, Maka, and Char Siu.

PT: So there will be more stories related to the Niuhi Shark Saga. But will you also surprise us with something completely new?

LP: There are more MG/YA and adult stories related to the Niuhi Shark Saga and Lauele Town that I plan to write and others that are totally unrelated. It’s hard to say which will be available to readers first since acquisition editors and publishers follow the market and give priority to what they think will sell best.

‘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!

A CHAT WITH… LEHUA PARKER

Lehua Parker is an extraordinary person. Her talent, imagination, and brilliant sense of humour led to the creation of the Niuhi Shark Saga – an engaging trilogy for younger audiences. Do you want to know more about the books? Read on.

LEHUA PARKER

Pasifika Tales: How did you come up with the idea for the Niuhi Shark Saga?

Lehua Parker: Way back in second grade at Kahului Elementary, I saw a film called ‘Legends of Hawaii’. It told the story of Nanaue, the demi-god who could take shark or human form and how as a young man he lured people into the ocean and ate them. For decades I thought about how his human family hid him from the villagers and how his hunger was so great that he ate his friends. One wintry day, the snow outside was piled as high as the laundry in the hallway. Sorting clothes, I thought about Hawaii and this story again. I sat down and started what was going to be an adult novel that explored the relationship between a tourist and a Hawaiian demi-god. But these rascally kids kept popping up, and I wrote more about them than the adults. What if there was a kid who didn’t know he was a shark? What if instead of allowing him to prey on humans, his family did everything they could to keep him from becoming a monster? Once lightning struck and I realized Zader was allergic to water and Jay was a surfer, I abandoned the adult novel and started to write what became ‘One Boy, No Water’ and ‘One Shark, No Swim’.

PT: Was it difficult to write for a MG/YA audience? Did you encounter any challenges?

LP: The biggest challenge was writing an authentically Hawaiian story for island kids that would also be read by mainlanders and others not familiar with the culture. The first draft of ‘One Boy, No Water’ had a lot more Pidgin and far less explanation of cultural practices than the current third edition. I really wanted to write a story where island kids saw themselves and people they know that was also a story for kids who didn’t like to read. But the perceived market for these kinds of stories is very small, so I often found myself in a catch-22: the publisher didn’t want to invest in marketing because people weren’t buying the books in large numbers, but no one would buy books they didn’t know existed. In reaction to this, I wrote less Pidgin in ‘One Shark, No Swim’ and even less in ‘One Truth, No Lie’.

PT: The trilogy is based on Hawaiian tales and legends. Would you say that children and teenagers are drawn into stories of other worlds adjacent to our own?

LP: I think so. Fantasy and magic realism allow MG/YA readers to connect with difficult subjects in ways that are ‘safe.’ Zader is the ultimate outsider. On the surface, it’s because of his weird water allergy. But kids are smart. I think they look at Zader and see all the reasons kids are made to feel like outsiders to their peer groups, including race, religion, socio-economic status, scholastic ability, athletic ability, appearance, or sexual orientation. I think Zader’s journey from hiding who he is to using his weaknesses as strengths – and Jay’s journey, too – empowers kids to think about their own challenges differently.

PT: Although Hawaiian lore is omnipresent in the novels, you didn’t forget about the ‘real world’. You made Hawaii so vivid. Did you want to show readers what an incredible place the 50th state is?

LP: Oh, thank you! You’re too kind! Yes, I really wanted to show the real Hawaii, the Hawaii I grew up in, and not the plastic hula skirt version people think they know from television and movies. Remember I mentioned all the snow on the ground when I started ‘One Boy, No Water’? A lot of writing about Hawaii had to do with me being very homesick for the beach and island food. During the cold winter months where I live, local grocery stores and restaurants have ‘Hawaiian Days.’ They bust out paper flowers from India, masks from Papua New Guinea, samba music from Brazil, grass skirts from who knows where, and put canned pineapple on everything and call it Hawaiian. Frankly, some days it really gets on my nerves. Some of the writing was probably in reaction to this – you wanna see Hawaii? I’ll show you the real Hawaii!

PT: You were quite bold to incorporate Pidgin into the dialogues. Did you have any doubts whether or not this would be a good idea?

LP: I always wanted to use Pidgin – and to use more than what’s in the current editions. But books are funny things. They are commodities that have to meet market expectations and be profitable. The original publisher was targeting a mainstream USA market. For this market, there’s still too much Pidgin in the books. Outside of Hawaii, school kids really struggle, and at first glance, teachers and librarians think it’s poor grammar. Island kids and adults don’t have a problem with the Pidgin. They get excited to read it. But this puts me in a quandary for other stories I want to write in this world – how do I balance authenticity with marketability? Still trying to figure that out.

PT: Let’s focus on the characters for a moment. They are so well-developed! Who (or what) was your inspiration for them?

LP: Fearless authors and comedians like Lois-Ann Yamanaka, Amy Tan, Andy Bumatai, Rap Reiplinger, Kiana Davenport, and others showed me how to create characters that reflected the world around them. All of the characters in the Niuhi Shark Saga are either the kinds of people I had in my life – or wished I had – growing up. When I talk with island kids about the books, they all know somebody like Uncle Kahana, Jay, Char Siu, or Zader. I went to school with kids like Tunazilla, Alika, Maka, and Lisa Ling, and had teachers and neighbors just like the ones in the books.

PT: Which of the characters was most fun or difficult to write and why?

LP: I had the most fun with Ilima, the dog who is not a dog. When I first started writing her character, she was just a diva. But then I started to understand that she was so much more, and it became a lot of fun to think up ways to drop hints to the reader. One of the hardest was Jay in the third book. He goes through so many difficult things, and I hated that.

PT: What would you like readers – children and adults alike – to take away from the trilogy?

LP: To never be afraid to write your own truth. I hope people are entertained, of course, that the books bring back memories of hanabata days for adults and keeps kids engaged in reading a whole trilogy. But when I talk with school kids, I tell them that we each have our own stories, and those stories are important. If we don’t tell our stories, others will, and their false stories will become the truth for many. I tell them to be brave, to worry less about others say you can or can’t do, and just go for it.

PT: Will there be a continuation to the Niuhi Shark Saga?

LP: Yes. I have many more stories in my head, including some about Maka going to college, Lili and her birth mother, Ilima and Uncle Kahana solving other supernatural problems, and at least one book set during the time Zader was away in ‘One Truth, No Lie’ about a girl who can see ghosts and moves to Lauele and goes to Ridgemont with Char Siu, Maka, and Jay. There are also several short stories, including how Pua and Justin meet. Unfortunately, about two years ago, I put these stories on hold due to some ongoing challenges with the original publisher of the Niuhi Shark Saga that resulted in the eventual return of my rights to the series about a year ago. I’m hoping to return to them soon.

What are you working on right now and are there any new books on the horizon?

LP: A while ago, I decided to work on other projects, mainly short stories and essays which have been published in anthologies and literary journals. Right now, I’m working through a contract for five novellas based on fractured fairy tales. The first novella is called ‘Nani’s Kiss’, and it’s in ‘Fractured Beauty’, a boxed eBook set available in October from Amazon. ‘Nani’s Kiss’ is a sci-fi story loosely based on ‘Beauty and the Beast’ and features Polynesians in space. I’m just starting the second novella in the series, a sweet contemporary romance based on ‘Cinderella’. During the family vacation to Hawaii, Rell has to play nanny to her rotten younger step-siblings who do all they can to ruin her vacation and convince the Prince that Rell’s not the one. The ‘Fractured Slipper’ boxed set is scheduled for publication in December. I’ve got one more top-secret book in the works, but no publisher on the horizon. I’m hoping to return to Lauele Town and those stories in November.

‘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.

MOST INTERESTING CHARACTERS IN PACIFIC LITERATURE (PART 1)

Simone, The Telesa Trilogy by Lani Wendt Young

Just imagine… An exuberant fa’afafine who is an absolute ideal of a best friend and who seems to always know what to say and do. Don’t you wish you had a person like this around you? Yes, Simone is…well…just shamazing!

Lani Wendt Young created a character who’s far more interesting and compelling than the protagonists of the novels, but – what’s important – doesn’t steal the whole spotlight. The bright and bubbly personality she bestowed upon him makes the occasionally serious story exude humour and Polynesian cheerfulness.

Materena, The Materena Mahi Trilogy by Célestine Hitiura Vaite

Materena is the real heroine of the trilogy. A devoted wife, an excellent mother, a star. She is, as teenagers would say, the coolest ever.

The author managed to develop a dynamic female character who is, first and foremost, a woman strong enough to fight for herself and do as she pleases. This powerful feminist voice is a reminder that you can never forget about your own needs; and that your dreams are just as important as everybody else’s.

Kiva, ‘Scar of the Bamboo Leaf’ by Sieni A.M.

The most fascinating people are the ones who have a story to tell; the ones who are not perfect (what does it mean to be perfect, anyway?); the ones who can teach us something. And because we usually want the novels to reflect the real world, the same goes for literary characters.

Kiva, the protagonist of Sieni A.M.’s book, instantly becomes your best friend. She isn’t flawless (although for me she is!), she has her struggles, and yet she is determined to lead a happy and meaningful life. She is a true role model every one of us – regardless of age – should look up to and at least try to emulate.

Tomas, ‘An Ocean In a Cup’ by Stephen Tenorio Jr.

Stephen Tenorio Jr’s literary debut, ‘An Ocean In a Cup’, is a wonderful example that it is indeed possible to create a multi-layered character who can not only attract but also hold readers’ attention.

Tomas is a leading figure of the book. Although at first he seems like an ordinary – extremely gifted, yes, nonetheless completely average – young man, you quickly realize there is more to his personality than what you see on the surface. The inexplicable darkness within him makes you contemplate psychological mechanisms that define human nature.

Uncle Kahana,  The Niuhi Shark Saga by Lehua Parker

In Middle Grade/YA genre characters are probably the most important element of the story. They may be an inspiring example for the youth; they may provide them with guidance; they may impart the words of wisdom. But most of all, they may entertain.

Uncle Kahana is a mysterious elder who knows more than he’s willing to show. Well versed in traditional knowledge, he represents ‘old Hawaii’, showing everyone that the ancient way of being is an integral part of the island life, and that indigenous culture simply must be respected.

BEST BOOKS BASED ON PACIFIC MYTHS, LEGENDS, FOLK TALES

The Telesa Trilogy by Lani Wendt Young

This highly acclaimed series is a modern take on Pacific mythology, which makes it a perfect read for teenagers.

The thrilling story of Leila Folger is a passionate romance based on the legends of Teine Sa, the spirit women of Samoa. The popular ancient beliefs are masterfully incorporated into the narrative – they constitute a considerable part of the story, yet they are not overwhelming.

The trilogy may be perfect for juvenile audiences, but you’ll love it even if you’re past your teenage years!

‘Sirena: A Mermaid Legend from Guam’ by Tanya Taimanglo

The story of Sirena, Guam’s legendary mermaid, is so well-known in the Pacific region that there is probably not a single person who wouldn’t be acquainted with it. This is one of the reasons why every Pasifika aficionado should read, and possess, Tanya Taimanglo’s book.

This particular retelling of the famous folk tale is a real beauty. Embellished with the most gorgeous illustrations – created by the author’s brother, Sonny Chargualaf – it will be an absolute treasure in your home library. Plus, it will definitely draw children’s attention!

‘Princess Hina & the Eel’ by King Kenutu

This is another wonderful book, especially for older children and teenagers.

The story of genuine, eternal love between a princess and a commoner is one of the better-known folk tales in Polynesia. It is captivating, thought-provoking, and timeless in its message. King Kenutu’s version is not only beautifully told but also full of passion that can be felt in each and every word.

The Niuhi Shark Saga by Lehua Parker

Lehua Parker’s saga is a brilliant example of engaging middle grade/young adult literature that’s deeply rooted in the local Polynesian mythology.

Although the series is not based on one particular myth, legend, or folk tale, it draws inspiration from old Hawaiian stories of a shapeshifting shark-man, Nanaue. It is not a retelling of the legend, but you may certainly find some similarities. Who knows, maybe Zader’s adventures will encourage you to delve into ancient tales from the Aloha State…

‘Turtle Songs: A Tale for Mothers and Daughters’ by Margaret Wolfson

This book tells the ancient Fijian myth – especially popular on the island of Kadavu – about the Turtle princess and her daughter.

It’s a classic retelling, gracefully narrated and adorned with lovely – absolutely lovely – watercolours. The illustrations make the story come alive before the reader’s eyes, so even young children will read or listen to this tale with great interest.

PACIFIC WRITERS YOU SHOULD KNOW (PART 2)

Tanya Taimanglo

Tanya Taimanglo is one of the best-known Chamorro authors. Although she’s been living in the US for quite a long time now, her love for Guam can be easily noticed in all of her works.

A versatile writer, Tanya pens books for children, the most amazing and thought-provoking short stories, and marvelously good novels. Her exceptional writing skills, wit and wisdom, as well as gentle sense of humour make every title a true pleasure to read.

Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner

Those who are interested in climate change has probably already heard Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner’s moving poem ‘Dear Matafele Peinem’, which she recited during the opening of the 2014 UN Climate Summit. And this is only one of many incredible pieces this talented Marshallese artist has created.

Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner is a poet, writer, performer, and journalist. Her poems are more like stories than anything else – poignant, straightforward, focused on raising awareness about some of the most important issues. They’re deeply touching when read. When declaimed by the author… It cannot be described. It must be felt.

John Saunana

John Saunana was a great poet and novelist from Solomon Islands, whose books – most notably his fictional story that depicts the country’s colonial past – are one of the best works in Melanesian literature.

The author wrote only one novel, which is very unfortunate considering the enormous talent he had. ‘The Alternative’ is therefore a must-read and virtually the only way to get acquainted with John Saunana’s genius.

Sia Figiel

Sia Figiel is unquestionably one of the most acclaimed female novelists from the Pacific Islands. This woman of great insight and even greater talent is, much like Albert Wendt, synonymous with Samoan literature.

In her books, Sia Figiel focuses on culturally important themes, which are gracefully wrapped in her beautiful, poetic prose. She delights, amazes, provokes. She entertains and moves. She captivates. But most of all, she leaves no one indifferent.

Lehua Parker

The one name that immediately comes to mind when one thinks about Children and Young Adult Pacific Literature is, of course, Lehua Parker. Indeed, she is most famous for her excellent Niuhi Shark Saga. However, and this is something you might not know, she also writes (equally excellent) stories for a little bit older readers.

All of Lehua Parker’s tales are set in Hawaii and ooze that mysterious Hawaiian charm. With each page you get to know the incredibly fascinating culture of the archipelago slightly better, you understand more, and you discover the world you may not have realized existed. Young or old, this author has something for everyone!