Tag Archives: Lehua Parker

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!

A CHAT WITH… LEHUA PARKER

Lehua Parker is not only an enormously talented writer, but also an utterly lovely lady. Although she has been living among haoles for quite a while now, she is a true kama’aina. In the aloha spirit, she agreed to answer a few questions about her books and Hawaii.

LEHUA PARKER

Pasifika Tales: Pacific Literature enthusiasts are familiar with your Niuhi Shark Saga, which is absolutely amazing. But you also wrote another series, called Lauele Town Stories. Could you say something more about those tales?

Lehua Parker: Lauele Town Stories and The Niuhi Shark Saga are set in the same world, a place that’s mostly like modern Hawaii, but is also a place where the largely unseen world of myths and legends interact with humans. Like many small island towns, the residents’ lives in Lauele are entwined – some for generations.

The Niuhi books tell just a small sliver of what goes on in Lauele, and since it’s written for a middle grade/young adult audience there are only hints about larger, more adult motivations behind the action and plot in the series. The three Niuhi books are mostly told from Zader’s teenage point of view and are about his journey to discover who he really is and how he will live his life.

Lauele Town Stories are what I like to think of as side stories to the Niuhi books. They can be adult in nature and darker, but not always. They explore the clash of modern vs. traditional Hawaiian views of the world and the consequences of adult actions. Characters from the Niuhi books sometimes appear in Lauele Town Stories and when they do, readers often get a new perspective on events surrounding Zader.

PT: As for now, there are three stories in the series; three quite different stories. What was your inspiration for each of them?

LP: There are three published Lauele stories: ‘Birth’, ‘Tourists’, and ‘Sniff’.

‘Birth’ tells a little more about the day Uncle Kahana found Zader on the reef. In the Niuhi books, Zader has no idea that his birth begins the redemption portion of Uncle Kahana’s life. The most rational thing for Kahana to do when he finds a newborn infant is to call the authorities – not convince his niece to adopt it. This story explains a little more about why Kahana did what he did and why he’s so invested in Zader. ‘Birth’ is unusual in that there are two versions in one volume – one with a lot of Hawaiian Pidgin and the other in standard American English.

‘Tourists’ is really one long insider’s joke. Islanders know the most dangerous time to go swimming is after the sun goes down, that you never take a stone from a sacred place, and that tourists can really be a pain in the okole. The story also shows both Kalei and Kahana in a different light than the Niuhi books and explores other ways that they are connected.

‘Sniff’ started as a challenge from my sister to write something for a local newspaper’s short story contest and is the reason Lauele exists. I hadn’t written fiction for years and said I had no ideas. She said write about something a child knows is real but nobody believes. I laughed and said like monsters under the bed? But then I thought what if a child had a dangerous secret and thought the only way to protect his family was to deal with it himself?

After winning the contest, I was encouraged to keep writing. I started thinking about similar themes and parts of what eventually became both the Niuhi books and Lauele stories started pouring out. Eventually I went back to ‘Sniff’ and rewrote it the way I originally saw it in my mind – set in Lauele and sprinkled with Pidgin.

PT: Now, your books are set in the fictional town of Lauele. Does the place exist only in your imagination or is it modelled after a specific neighborhood?

LP: Lauele is entirely made up. Readers would have a hard time figuring out where on Oahu it would be because the sun sets in the ocean and rises over the mountains, which would put it on the Waikiki side, but the country living is more like Waimanalo or the north shore. The Hawaiian word lauele means to wander mentally or to imagine and that’s what I did as I created the valley, shoreline, roads, and harbor.

PT: Finish the sentence, please. Lauele town is…

LP: …a place where people who know how to see, listen, and feel can connect to the old Hawaii that lives just under the surface of everyday life.

PT: And the real Hawaii is…

LP: …home to many different cultures and people that are constantly redefining island style.

PT: Do you miss living in the 50th state?

LP: I miss my friends and family, of course. I miss the warm weather and the beach, especially when the snow is deep. My kids don’t have the same connections I do to the ocean and there are moments when that makes me sad. But a kumu hula (a Hawaiian dance/culture master) once said that wherever his feet walked was Hawaii and whatever breath he expelled was aloha. I try to keep that perspective and carry my Hawaiian-ness with me – even if it’s only on the inside.

PT: Ok, let’s get back to your Lauele Town Stories. Are there any morals, life truths you wanted to convey to your readers?

LP: One of the reoccurring themes in my work is the idea that things are not what they seem. On the surface everything functions one way, but there are secret interconnected relationships. The interconnectedness is what holds the surface together. Curious people look behind the curtain and see the real Oz pulling the levers – and that knowledge can be life changing.

PT: Can we expect more Lauele Town stories?

LP: Upcoming Lauele stories tell about the meeting of Zader’s biological parents, Uncle Kahana’s youthful rejection of his father’s traditional teachings, how Hari came to run the local store, and Nili-boy’s brush with Pele. I have an idea – just an idea – for future Lauele stories that involve a series for younger children about Ilima’s adventures based on Hawaiian mythology. There’s also a novel in my head about Lili discovering her birth mother’s family that’s not told in the Niuhi books. While the Niuhi Shark Saga books are a trilogy, I think I’ll be writing Lauele Town Stories for years.

‘TOURISTS’ BY LEHUA PARKER

‘Tourists’ is one of the tales in Lehua Parker’s Lauele Town Series. It is also a companion book to the acclaimed Niuhi Shark Saga.

TOURISTS

 Summary

All Hawaiians know that when the sun goes down it is wise to stay out of the water. But some visitors simply can’t resist the ocean’s gentle waves. Just like the location scout from Hollywood who, after a week spent on searching for a perfect piece of Brazil on Oahu, couldn’t turn down the man’s offer. Well, it’s only a swim in the moonlight. And he’s kinda cute. Nothing bad can happen…

But Hawaiians also know that you can’t disrespect ancient cultures. When you take a stone from a sacred place, sooner or later you will be punished.

Review

Most readers associate Lehua Parker with middle-grade literature. She is, after all, the author of the famous Niuhi Shark Saga – one of the best book series geared toward a young audience. And, it must be noted, she truly excels at this particular genre. Her age-appropriate narratives are beautifully constructed, stimulating, and absolutely gripping. To put it simply, she really knows her craft.

That being said, you may be somewhat surprised to find out that Lehua Parker’s latest addition to the Lauele Town Stories is nowhere near the ‘MG fiction’ category – ‘Tourists’ is a tale intended for adults. Rich in symbolism and filled with mystery, it takes readers – rational, grown-up readers – on a rather unusual and definitely unforgettable journey to Hawaii – a familiar yet strange place where reality intertwines with magic.

I have to admit that the concept of incorporating local lore into the plot was quite a bold move, especially when you take into account the genre switch. Not very often does such underlying theme appear in literature written for those over…let’s say the age of 18. Well, you can’t treat a story in which one of the protagonists is a man-shark seriously, can you? Despite this obvious ‘unrealness’, the narrative is certainly not a fable; even if it teaches a moral lesson. Yes, not only did Mrs Parker embellish ‘Tourists’ with a pinch of mythology, but she also decided to use the tale as a reminder of life’s essential truths and fundamental principles. Through the two main characters, she wonderfully portrays the clash of modern and traditional values. ‘The Hollywood lady’ (what a fitting sobriquet!) is a more than accurate representation of the contemporary, cynical world where there’s this common belief that the right amount of money can get you everything you want and need. You don’t have to ask, you don’t have to plead. You just state your request and pay. And then there’s Kalei – a symbol of morality and decency who punishes the wrongdoers, making sure they suffer the consequences of their actions.

In the narrative the line between right and wrong is clearly visible. If only the distinction could be made just as easily in real life…

Those who’ve had a chance to read other titles in the Lauele Town series surely know what to expect from this story in terms of language and style. As you can imagine, it is beautifully written. Despite leisurely pace, the narration flows smoothly, keeping you engaged from the beginning to the very end. Poetic descriptions set the mood and the use of Hawaiian words, which you will have no trouble understanding, adds authenticity. All these, along with the aura of mystery that lingers over Keikikai beach, makes this short tale a truly worthy read.

I’m not sure ‘Tourists’ will let you experience the aloha spirit. But there is one thing I can guarantee you: you will never regret immersing yourself in Lehua Parker’s imaginary world.

‘SNIFF’ BY LEHUA PARKER

‘Sniff’ is the second title in Lehua Parker’s Lauele Town Series. It’s a short tale that revolves around a Hawaiian boy and his hidden, closely guarded secret.

SNIFF

Summary

A young resident of Lauele Town, Kona Inoye, has a problem he cannot tell anyone about. Neither his parents nor his friends appear to have any idea that there is something under the boy’s bed. Something that craves sweet, clean, and nice-smelling things.

Kona does his best to deal with the difficult situation. But it’s not always easy, especially when mama tells him to bathe and put on fresh clothes. The boy knows that this time simply eating onions may not be enough to…survive.

Review

According to the official definition, a book series comprises publications that share a common theme, settings, or set of characters. So, let’s see what we can say about the Lauele Town Stories. Common theme? No. Common settings? Yes. Common set of characters? Well, yes and no. Is it a book series then? It is. A very interesting one. Lehua Parker certainly knows how to draw readers attention. Whenever you reach for one of her tales, you aren’t quite sure what to expect.

Apart from being set in the same fictional Hawaiian town, the narratives show no other similarities. ‘Birth’ is a wonderful novella that provides the background to Zader’s story, giving you a little more information regarding the characters you might know from the famous Niuhi Shark Saga. In ‘Sniff’ everything is new. New but just as unusual. The protagonist, Robert Konahele Inoye, appears to be an ordinary boy who leaves dirty socks on the floor, hates making his bed, and steals Oreo cookies from the kitchen cupboard. However, as you read through the pages, his chilling secret slowly unravels and you realize this tale goes deeper than you might have initially thought.

But how ‘serious’ can a story about some beast hiding under a child’s bed be? Well, Lehua Parker’s book proves that this rather common theme isn’t reserved for children’s or young adult literature only. Rich in symbolism, which will be actually more evident to mature readers than adolescents, ‘Sniff’ is quite thought-provoking. Somewhere between the lines the author camouflaged questions worth pondering on. How far will a person go to protect their family? Are even the most unbelievable things always a figment of somebody’s imagination? What happens when they turn out to be real? The ending of this tale is your answer. And, let me tell you, it’s an answer you wish you’d never got.

Of course, the fact that the story has a hidden message doesn’t make it any less entertaining overall. It’s still a delightful, humorous (at times hysterically funny) read that will keep you riveted from the very beginning. Exactly like ‘Birth’, this title also contains two versions of the narrative. The first one is written in Standard American English, the second is adorned with Hawaiian-style expressions and Pidgin words. If you are familiar with these, you know which version you should opt for.

I must admit I am truly impressed with Lehua Parker works. She is an extremely talented writer with a head full of bewitching ideas. She never fails to deliver a good story. And when it comes to ‘Sniff’… Well, if you like mysteries or are curious what can be found under a piece of furniture, treat yourself to this tale. It can be downloaded – for free – from the author’s website. Engaging, amusing, and intriguing at the same time, it is a wonderful book for children and adults alike.