Tag Archives: Lehua Parker

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.

‘BIRTH’ BY LEHUA PARKER

‘Birth’ is a short story penned by Lehua Parker. It is a prequel to the books of the Niuhi Shark Saga, which are focused on a boy named Zader and his adoptive family.

BIRTH

Summary

On a Sunday morning in peaceful Lauele Town, Kahana and his faithful dog ‘Ilima decide to stroll along the beach in order to catch some fish for breakfast. While combing the reef, they make a shocking but precious discovery – a newborn baby with a curious birthmark.

Kahana quickly realizes that the abandoned child needs a loving family – someone who will be able to take care of him. The only person that comes to his mind is his great-niece, herself a mother of an infant boy. When Elizabeth sees the little one, she makes a firm decision to keep him. Alexander, or Zader for short, becomes the youngest member of the Westin family.

Review

Everyone familiar with Lehua Parker’s Niuhi Shark Saga will be delighted with this tale, as it unravels the background of Zader’s remarkable story. Although some of the questions readers might ask – Where does Zader come from? Who is his birth mother? Why was he abandoned? – still remain a mystery, a few of the guarded secrets are finally explained.

That being said, those who have not (yet) read ‘One Boy, No Water’ – the first book in the Niuhi Shark Series – can get slightly confused. The narrative in ‘Birth’ is, undeniably, very engaging. However, there is virtually no information regarding the characters or the magical world they live in. You may notice that some of the pieces in this puzzle are missing. Indeed, they are; purposely. In order to find them, you have to read the remaining parts of Zader’s adventures. Can you call this a flaw? Absolutely not. Taking into account that the tale is a companion title to Parker’s novels, the lack of detailed descriptions is perfectly acceptable.

Now, and this is quite interesting, there are two versions of the story in this book. The first one – written in Standard American English – is for haoles, or people who don’t speak Hawaiian (unless you are haole who has at least basic knowledge of the 50th state). The second version, much more fascinating if you are acquainted with the islands’ slang and culture, uses Hawaiian words and phrases (without explanation). You are given a choice. But, if you want my advice, read both. You’ll see the difference.

When it comes to Lehua Parker’s writing style, it is absolutely exquisite. The choice of words, the balance between Standard English and Pidgin is truly marvelous. Even though the narrative is not filled with vivid imagery, you really get the feel of Hawaii – a place where aloha spirit roams the streets, people live in tune with nature, and nothing is more important than ‘ohana. I wouldn’t say the book is a page-turner, but it definitely holds your attention. After finishing the last sentence, you immediately want to immerse yourself in other tales from the Lauele Town series.

‘Birth’ is a wonderful read that will bring you a lot of enjoyment. Fantastic for children and adults alike, it’s a proof that short stories should not be dismissed out of hand. This one is surely worthy of your time.

THROUGH MY EYES: ‘HAWAIIAN ON THE INSIDE’ BY LEHUA PARKER

I was walking through Dick’s Sporting Goods in Salt Lake City, Utah when I saw it hanging on the back wall: a ski jacket with the same bird of paradise print my tutu had on her couch cushions in the ‘70s. Like a teri beef plate lunch special it called to me. My daughter was appalled. ‘You are NOT wearing that, Mom. No way!’

‘It’s reversible, right?’ my son asked.

My husband shrugged. ‘At least we’ll be able to find you in a crowd.’

I bought it.

And I wore it. For about a week it clashed with everything and everyone, as out of place as an aloha shirt at – well, a ski slope. When you’re an ex-pat Hawaiian living near world-class winter sporting grounds it can be hard to find the aloha spirit in the middle of January.

I tried not to care. I ignored the stares and snickers and carried my childhood wrapped around me like a blanket. But one day I caved and reversed it.

‘What’s up with your coat?’ my son asked.

‘It’s like me. I’m wearing my Hawaiian on my inside.’

He tilted his head. ‘Yeah, but unlike your coat you’re not even brown on the outside.’

Ouch.

Through a genetic quirk my youngest sister and I inherited our mother’s super fair northern European coloring while my other sister and brother have our father’s mixed Hawaiian heritage of medium brown hair, eyes, and skin.

I’m not going to lie to you. As the only blond, blue-eyed kid in the entire school district in Kahului, Maui it was rough. Unlike every other Hawaiian family I’ve known, my dad was an only child from a family of only children – and from Oahu. I didn’t have a huge ohana of cousins calabash or otherwise on Maui to vouch for me. It was easy to be the target from the teachers and principal on down.

No lie. People go to jail now for what they did to me in elementary school. But Maui was a different time and place back then. At least I like to think so.

There’s a disconnect that happens in your head when you’re beaten for being an outsider by kids who are descendants of sugarcane and pineapple workers from Asia when your ancestors farmed taro in those same fields for hundreds of years. But on the playground nobody cares about those kinds of distinctions. It’s all about freckles and the need for sunscreen.

For a year or two after school while waiting for my mom to get off work, I went to a house where the father carved traditional ki‘i – tiki statues – and the grandmother spoke beautiful Hawaiian with her friends under the shade of mango trees. They were patient with me – the gangly haole girl who watched with big eyes and listened to the melodious voices rolling like water over her head. Sometimes they would tell me stories about Hawaiian history, culture, legends, and traditions. I soaked them up like a sponge.

After my family moved back to Oahu, I was accepted into The Kamehameha Schools and that changed my life. I didn’t have to fight so hard to belong because everyone knew I wouldn’t be there if I didn’t. At Kamehameha I learned more about what it means to be a modern Hawaiian, and like my classmates, promised to perpetuate our culture in positive ways. Our princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop had given us the precious gift of an education; we therefore have an obligation to be her hands and pass aloha along.

I write the Niuhi Shark Saga and other stories for island kids who never see themselves or their families in popular literature. So much about Hawaii has been rewritten by Hollywood and that’s tragic. There is a need for authentic Pasifika voices to tell our stories, and I hope to add to the conversation in my small way.

When people read the words, they hear a Hawaiian voice. But when I show up at a book signing or appearance that disconnect happens again. ‘You’re Lehua? From The Kamehameha Schools? No way!’ I don’t think anyone ever gets used to being called a liar within the first few minutes of meeting a stranger, but I smile and roll with it. I’ve thought about putting my dark-haired sister’s photo on the back of my books and sending her to out into the world as Lehua, but I know that wouldn’t be pono. And for a Hawaiian, living a life that’s pono – a life in harmony with what is good, noble, and true in thought, action, and deed – is our deepest aspiration.

Like many of my classmates, I went to the mainland for college and stayed to raise a family – a family of towheads like me with looooong Hawaiian middle names. And I worry about that.

Every year I grind my teeth when the local grocery store hosts its Hawaiian days with samba music from Brazil, masks from Papua New Guinea, paper flowers from India, and calls anything with pineapple Hawaiian. In the summer neighbors are keen to throw luaus where they wear cellophane grass skirts, fake coconut bras, and serve Hawaiian haystacks – a truly vile concoction of shredded chicken, raw veggies, coconut chips, long-grained rice, and Campbell’s cream of chicken soup. About the time they bring out the limbo stick and form a conga line is when I sneak home. I know I should be more gracious, but it’s hard.

I insist my kids call flip-flops slippahs, snow cones shave ice, and understand that true aloha is colorblind. I wonder if I’m going to be the last generation in my family that remembers how Maui captured the sun, when the makahiki season starts, and why haloa is the staff of life. But then I hear about how my son called out his AP World Geography teacher about comments he found derogatory and inappropriate about Polynesians – and insisted on an apology. When the teacher balked and called him a poser, my son told his teacher to look at his middle name and offered to have his mother come in and explain real Hawaiian history to the class.

Pono.

Maybe I won’t be the last after all.

BEST BOOK SERIES

The Telesa Series by Lani Wendt Young

It is an engaging story of Leila Folger, a young woman from Washington D.C., who comes to Samoa in search of her heritage. As she spends time on the beautiful island, she not only discovers who she really is, but also finds the love of her life.

The series, which is considered Young Adult Paranormal Romance, is suitable for readers of all ages. It is an extremely compelling tale of love, friendship, commitment and devotion, which introduces people to Samoan mythology and the legend of Teine Sa. Every single book of this trilogy is a masterpiece; it’s something you will not regret buying, reading, and rereading over and over again.

The Materena Mahi Series by Celestine Hitiura Vaite

The novels follow Materena Mahi, a young female living in Tahiti. Her seemingly ordinary life is full of surprises and events that constantly turn her little world upside down.

This trilogy is a cultural study of contemporary Tahiti woven into a gripping and written with a great sense of humour story. Celestine Hitiura Vaite created an amazing group of characters, whose trials and tribulations show readers the true value of life and family. These heart-warming novels simply deserve to be read and praised, as they are exceptionally good.

The Niuhi Shark Saga by Lehua Parker

Set in modern Hawaii, the Niuhi Shark Saga is a series of five books that tell the story of Zader, a boy who was found abandoned on a reef and adopted by the Westin family. His life on the island, not an easy one, is full of secrets and mysteries that Zader needs to uncover.

As for now, only two volumes have been published; the third one is due out later this year. This is a wonderful series for children, both boys and girls, but if you ask me, any adult will be more than happy to read it. Lehua Parker did a fantastic job of mixing magic with reality – while reading the books, everyone will be transported to a completely different world of exciting adventures.

The Ancient Tahiti Series by Clare Coleman

It is a story of Tepua, a chief’s daughter, whose canoe is wrecked on the shores of Tahiti. Despite many adversities, despite being a stranger in a foreign land, she learns to live among not always friendly and amiable people. Everything changes when she finally comes back home.

This is an extremely moving and exciting historical trilogy. It takes readers on a wonderful journey to Tahiti, where ancient customs and traditions come to life. It is a truly captivating read. Settings, scenery, characters – everything is just magnificent.

The One Foot Island Trilogy by Graeme Lay

The books tell the story of a teenage girl, Tuaine Takamoa, who leaves her beloved islands to attend school in New Zealand. When she comes back home, she falls in love with Adam, an Australian boy whose parents are not happy with their son’s new relationship.

This is another series for young adults, but, let me tell you, it is a good one! Tuaine is a very believable heroine. The problems and dilemmas she needs to deal with provide readers (both young and old) with interesting insights into the world of teenagers. An alluring titles for adolescents and valuable and educational material for their parents.

BEST CHILDREN’S BOOKS

‘Call it Courage’ by Armstrong Sperry

This beautiful novel tells the story of Mafatu, a teenage boy who sets out on a journey in order to overcome his great fear of the sea. As he confronts different obstacles, he realizes that he has enough strength to cope with the challenges of life.

Fantastically written, the book is an inspiring read for boys and girls alike. Its immensely interesting plot takes children on a wonderful voyage to the South Seas, giving them a chance to discover their own potential.

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

Sirena is a young Chamorro girl who has a deep love for nature. She spends her time in the sparkling waters of a nearby river, often neglecting the household chores. Her harmonious life changes when she is cursed by her own mother.

This is the most amazing tale, especially for girls. Not only does it teach young readers a valuable lesson, but also gives them an opportunity to get to know the traditional legend from the island of Guam. The book itself is a real beauty – with all the marvelous illustrations, it’s something anyone will cherish for life.

Niuhi Shark Saga by Lehua Parker

The books are focused on a boy named Zader, who was found abandoned on a reef and adopted by the Westin family. His life in Lauele Town, Hawaii, is not a peaceful one and there are secrets just waiting to be discovered.

The saga is a five-volume series. ‘One Boy, No Water’ and ‘One Shark, No Swim’ have already been published; the third one is due out this year. The story is so engaging and compelling, that it’s really hard to put the books down. Zader’s adventures will easily capture any child’s interest and imagination, transporting them into a new world, where magic is mixed with reality. Perfect especially for boys, but girls may love it too.