Okay, everyone. I need you all to lean in close. I’m going to tell you something you don’t know.
Uncle Brad was a secret agent.
To my eleven year-old self, there was no other explanation. In the 1970s, he was double-o seven cool in his aviator sunglasses, slacks, slim-cut collared shirts, and pointed Italian loafers. His hair was always perfect, and there was never a hint of a five o’clock shadow. He wore a fancy silver watch and carried a cigarette in his hand like a sixth finger.
He even smelled good.
The summer I turned eleven, back in the -ee days when Ken was Kenny and I was Shelly, I shared my suspicions about our secret agent uncle with my cousins, Kenny and Lori, and my sister Heidi.
That summer, at family gatherings during Strawberry Days, 4th of July, and Pioneer Day, we spent a lot of time doing our own spying from the tops of Grandma’s maple trees and peering out from behind the lilac and bayberry bushes. Kenny was in charge of the notebook where we recorded our observations. We waited patiently for Uncle Brad to use his fancy watch to contact his superiors and disappear in a silent helicopter that we knew would land out by the apple trees.
But Uncle Brad was a pro. We never caught him doing anything more exciting than blowing smoke rings. Decades later, when I told him about that summer, he laughed and laughed. I found out last night from Aunt Susie that some of the joke was on us. He told her that he never liked wearing aviator sunglasses, but he wore them because he knew the nieces and nephews liked them.
To be fair, when I was even younger, I was convinced that Aunt Betty moonlighted as Doris Day in movies. As I child, I may have had an overactive imagination.
And while Uncle Brad wasn’t a spy, it wasn’t my imagination that told me he was something even rarer: a person who loved each of us unconditionally.
Human life is messy. No one understood that better or had more compassion for messy than Uncle Brad. He had the gift of seeing each of us as who we truly are. He cheered our successes and mourned with us through our trials. I know of several occasions when envelopes full of hope, sympathy, and cash simply appeared when times were tough for many of us. During one of the last conversations I had with him, when he was so sick that he couldn’t hardly speak, he wanted to know how one of the cousins was doing and what he could do to help.
From his deathbed, he wanted to help.
Uncle Brad was quick with a hug. There was a law that you couldn’t go to Provo Towne Center without stopping into Sears to see him.
Like a master spy, Uncle Brad worked quietly behind the scenes. After his retirement, at family gatherings, he was the first to arrive and the last to leave. A wiz at setting up tables and chairs, he never let me carry a box to my car.
He made Kevin do it.
Uncle Brad was never the center of attention, but he loved to talk with people one on one. He always wanted to know what was going on in our lives, and he showed how deeply he cared by remembering the tiniest details about what we told him. Years later he’d ask how something had turned out. If it was important to us, it was important to him.
But as much as he loved his nieces and nephews, his greatest joy was in his daughter Katherine and in his grandsons. He loved them fiercely. I remember the delight in his eyes when he told me about how smart Katherine was to be able to juggle so many things at work, how amazingly well Kyle sang at three, how Chaser learned to drive, or how naturally Gunny played ball.
Like many men of his generation, his focus was on providing for his family. He worked long, hard hours. He was a patriot who served his county in both the Navy and Army. When I asked him why, he told me that he just had to see how the other half lived–and who had the better food. I remember him golfing, camping, and fishing, but I think I was in my thirties before I saw him wearing a pair of jeans.
James Bond didn’t wear jeans, either. Just sayin’.
As his health deteriorated, we saw him less and less. Family celebrations became too much for him. During the last years, I know he dreamed of drinking a tall glass of water or an icy Coke—neither of which was possible for him to do.
Earlier this week Aunt Betty sent me this:
“I know that Brad’s cancer was a terrible disease, and I saw Heavenly Father’s love helping my husband to get through it. Because my husband was a kind and loving person, he chose to trust in our Father in Heaven as he faced such a grueling four year battle. I saw his faith and love for the gospel grow tremendously. He was able to receive his temple endowment and be sealed to me forever. In the last few days of his life, I asked him several times if he was afraid. He always said no. When I asked how he was feeling, he would sometimes ask for pain medication, but always told me he was fine. I am so thankful for him and the courage he showed. He is and was the bravest person I have ever known.”
I was there in the temple when he was sealed to Aunt Betty. He was frail, and I remember how physically difficult it was for him to be there. Just last week, Uncle Brad told my mother, the original Kathy, that he wished he’d had the opportunity to be a temple worker. He thought he’d be a good one.
I work in the Provo Temple in the baptistery. I testify to you that the veil has two sides. Without a shadow of a doubt, I know that he is there, loving us all unconditionally. Heaven is full of guardian angels. He is still here, supporting us through our trials and cheering our successes. If you close your eyes, you can feel him wrap his arms around you in a hug.
Aloha ‘oe, Uncle Brad. Until we meet again. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
Two days ago, I was on my way down Provo Canyon, a hour-long drive that I can do in my sleep. Flipping through the satellite radio stations, the car swelled with Merry Christmas, Darling by the Carpenters.
It’s too early, I thought, reaching to spin the dial.
I love this song.
It’s cheesy. It’s early November.
I don’t care. No one else can hear.
I opened my mouth and sang.
There was a time in my life when my hours were filled with music, when singing was about rehearsal and performance, about colors and tones and harmony. I don’t sing much any more and never where I think someone can hear me.
I know what I sounded like then and what I sound like now. My middle-aged voice is hoarse with fall allergies and the damage done to my vocal chords more than twenty years ago. Following Karen Carpenter’s melody line, my pitch was flat of true and my breath control left me sucking wind on most of the phrasing.
Alone in my car, I sang anyway. Really, really loudly.
The next song was O Holy Night.
Sang that one, too, cheering as big, fluffy flakes melted to death on my windshield.
I hate snow. Despite what many think, snow and Christmas are not synonymous. Give me a green Christmas at the beach any day.
Which got me thinking. To me, Christmas music should start in October.
Now I don’t work in a mall or a bank or any place that sells Christmas decorations or forces people to listen ad nauseam to holiday cheer. I’m not talking about full-on Christmas pre-Halloween, and certainly not in public.
I’m talking about a more private introspection.
October is when rehearsals for holiday performances start. Choirs and symphonies pass out sheet music for everything from complicated classical pieces to popular pop medleys. Performance schedules are announced. Television timeslots secured. Many years ago, every October for a couple of hours on weekdays, longer on weekends, I’d practice the more complicated phrases on my flute and memorize all the first soprano descants and hallelujahs.
Not a snowflake in sight.
Alone in the car it didn’t matter that my voice was no longer a stratosphering pure soprano. As I sang songs I knew well, I realized my voice was now an off-key smoky contralto, challenging me to fumble for harmonies and thirds when the melody soared past my now less than ideal range. I sounded awful. But for once I didn’t care.
Maybe, just maybe, I’ve grown past comparing what was with what is, with mourning the loss of spotlights and applause to find my way back to the joy of music again.
Maybe I’ll dust off my flute and pull out some sheet music and play to an empty house while the neighbors are all at work. My fingers curved around the steering wheel with muscle memory, flickering through patterns of runs and skips, my lips pursed in anticipation.
An hour of singing Christmas music in early November changed my entire perspective.
And maybe, just maybe, this new idea that’s brewing will give me the freedom to write what I want without worrying about publication, confusing an audience, or building a brand.
Maybe writing will be fun again.
Last night my husband got in my car and turned the key. Christmas music filled the air. He scowled. “Lehua, you can’t be listening to Christmas music.”
“Sure I can. My ears work fine.”
“It’s the first of November. We still have Halloween candy and pumpkin seeds to roast.”
“Not my problem,” I said.
“Lehua, we have a deal.”
“It’s been more than thirty years. You trying to back out now?”
“I promised no Christmas music in the house until after Thanksgiving. What I listen to in my car is my own business.”
He rolled his eyes and changed the station.
Whatever. With the holiday music station on a preset, it’s not hard to tune in again. Tonight I have another hour plus drive to Salt Lake City. I’ll be the one in a red SUV learning the alto parts to Handel’s Messiah, singing alone, loud, and slightly off-key.
You have been warned.
I am sitting in a too small hospital gown thinking about Schrodinger’s cat. There are two possibilities before me. Empirically, only one is true, but at this moment of unknowing both are alive in my head.
I’ve been here before.
Job/no job. Scholarship/no scholarship. Pregnant/not pregnant. Broken/not broken. Like the cat in the famous box, each time the verdict was already decided; I just didn’t know it yet.
When I say I’ve been here before, I really have. I know the mammogram drill. With a mother as a breast cancer survivor, I don’t fool around. Yearly check-ups. Seven initial years of suspicious call backs for a second series of images, followed by three years of one painful smoosh visit each and done. As mammogram imaging improved and with my previous records to compare, the chances of false positives were drastically reduced.
The seven previous times I came back for a second, more thorough diagnostic mammogram ended with the technician popping back in the room to deliver the verdict: “You can get dressed. The radiologist reviewed the new images and says it’s light refraction/dense tissue/a blur on the original —there’s nothing to worry about. We’ll send the results to your doctor. See you in a year.”
I always nodded and thanked her and got dressed after she left. I learned early not to wear buttons. Too hard to fasten when your hands are shaking.
In the early years I asked, “What happens if it’s really something?”
“We do an ultra sound, then a needle biopsy.”
She sighed. “Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, okay?”
I don’t ask anymore.
This year, after three years of passes, I’m back for a second diagnostic mammogram. Before we begin, the technician shows me the images. “See this? That’s what we’re going to take more images of. You can see it in this view and that one, but not this one.”
In the middle of mother roundness is a hard little white spot on the screen. “It’s about here?” I point to an area near my nipple.
“Yes,” she says. “It could be a refraction. But I wanted you to see.”
Seeing it makes it real.
She looks at me and pats my shoulder. “I’ll have the radiologist check the images as soon as we’re done. I’m not letting you go home without an answer.”
I nod and we start.
She’s gentle, but the machines hurt. She pauses after the usual three shots and says, “I want to take a couple more.”
This is new.
“You think the radiologist will want another view,” I say.
“Yes,” she says.
“Better now than later,” I say. When I am already dressed and waiting, I don’t say.
“It’s quicker if I have it when he asks,” she says. “Besides, why not if I can?”
No one takes more images than they need. She’s seen something.
“Let’s do it,” I say. This time tissue is rolled and twisted before flattening. I suck air through clenched teeth and try not to think. What I wish is to not feel.
“Be right back.”
The cat is in the box. It has been since before I climbed into my car to drive to the hospital.
How many times can you beat the odds? The average woman’s lifetime risk is one in eight, and I am not average. I count friends, family, and acquaintances in multiples of eight. The math tells me the odds are not good.
I also know that these odds don’t matter. At the individual level, it’s zero or one hundred.
I remind myself that I am crap at statistics. It’s voodoo mathematics.
I look at my wedding and engagement rings and wonder if I should leave them to my son for his someday bride and give my diamond solitaire earrings to my daughter. But what if my future daughter-in-law prefers her own ring instead of one weighted with a mother’s love? Maybe I should give my daughter my ring, too, and leave my daughter-in-law one of my gold bracelets. Granddaughters! I need to figure out which heirlooms to reserve for them. I guess I could have each pick her favorite on their sixteenth birthdays. Sounds complicated, but fair. I better leave a note with the jewelry in the safe.
I have tons of photos and scrapbook memorabilia stashed away in drawers and folders, none of it organized and waiting for the day when I finally get my act together to create books for each of my kids. I calculate how many good vs. bad chemo days there are in the coming months and realize I need to get cracking. No one, not even a future loving stepmother will do this job the way I will. I hold the memories, after all.
Closets. Dejunk and de-clutter. No one should have to deal with those messes. Empty the downstairs freezer.
In the box the cat both paces and lies dead. My eyes flicker from the closed door to the images left up on the screen.
The air conditioning’s a little cold. I clutch the ends of the gown closer, forcing them to meet.
When the door swooshes open, the technician thrusts her thumbs up. “We’re good,” she says.
I remember to breathe.
“Come see,” she says. She shows me the new images, how in one the spot appears, but in the titty-twister, it doesn’t. “The radiologist says it’s a milk gland. Nothing to worry about.”
Seeing makes it real.
“You can get dressed. I’ll see you in a year.”
I thank her as she heads out the door. I zip up my shirt. The cat jumps out of the box.
But I’m going to tell you about my now seventeen year old daughter instead.
When she was starting kindergarten at a private school, they had a get to know the parents, classmates, and teacher picnic. At the picnic I overheard a boy tell his friends how much he loved to chase and kiss girls. I said something to his mother and the teacher, who both laughed it off.
On the way home, I told my daughter if anyone tried to kiss her and she didn’t want to, she had the right to say no–loud and long–until they stopped. And if they kept pursuing, she had the right to make them stop. I said she might get in trouble at school at first, but I would never be mad at her and would explain to the grown-ups.
Sure enough, I got a call the first day of school. I walked into the principal’s office and faced an outraged parent, teacher, and principal who wanted to suspend my daughter for punching a boy in the eye—violence and hitting would not be tolerated.
I calmly asked my daughter to explain what happened. She described how this boy was chasing all the girls at recess, knocking them down, and kissing them—and was encouraging other boys to do this, too. She matter of factly said she’d told him she didn’t want to kiss, he told her she’d better run, and she’d said no and if you try to kiss me again, I’ll punch you. He tried, so she socked him. He ran to the teacher, crying. My daughter also said we didn’t have to worry or punish the boy because in her opinion the problem was solved because she didn’t think he would try to kiss her again. Could she go color now? I gave her a hug and sent her out of the room.
I wish I could say the adults—all women—immediately got it, but they didn’t. I insisted that punishing my daughter for defending herself against unwanted sexual advances was exactly the wrong message. Remember, this was supposed to be a progressive, enlighten private school. I ended their boys will be boys defense with my daughter always has my permission to defend herself against assault.
This boy continued to kiss unwilling girls until my daughter taught them it was okay to fight back. She told the girls not to run or cry, but to tell him no and to punch if he didn’t listen. She said sometimes a punch works best, but to use words first. She also said don’t be mad at him, he’ll figure it out eventually.
The wisdom of a five year old.
After a few more bruises and visits to the principal, his parents acknowledged there might be a problem and got him some counseling.
Knowing that you have the right to say no and to defend yourself—and others—is not a magical protection shield. But maybe if more five year olds felt empowered to stand up for themselves, fewer perpetrators would grow up thinking behavior like this is okay.
#metoo is hashtag used to to increase awareness of sexual harassment and assault on Twitter and Facebook. The original call for stories looked like this: “If every person who has been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote “Me too” as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem.” In my original Facebook post I left out a very important detail to this story, the part where I wished someone had told five year old me what I told my daughter. For all men and women who get this, thank you. Your voices, examples, and actions make a difference. For those who never considered what happened to them in the hallways or playground as sexual harassment or assault and have now realized that snapping bra straps, flipping up skirts, and chasing girls to kiss them is a forerunner to more serious issues, this can be an eye-opening experience. Let’s teach our children better and resist ideas that downplay these incidents as kids will be kids.
Note: Tales From Pasifika is a website dedicated to reviewing stories that explore Polynesian and Oceanic cultures and themes. If you’re looking for a good book that fits into the Pacific-Lit category, this is the place. Tales From Pasifika is reviewing the Niuhi Shark Saga. The following is an excerpt from their review of One Truth, No Lie, book 3 in the trilogy. To see the whole review, click here.
Tales from Pasifika 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?
Mahalo nui loa, Tales From Pasifika! You can find the entire Niuhi Shark Saga on Amazon: One Boy, No Water, book 1; One Shark, No Swim, book 2; One Truth, No Lie, book 3; and a companion story Birth: Zader’s Story. More books related to the series coming soon.
Note: Tales From Pasifika is a website dedicated to reviewing stories that explore Polynesian and Oceanic cultures and themes. If you’re looking for a good book that fits into the Pacific-Lit category, this is the place. Tales From Pasifika is reviewing the Niuhi Shark Saga. The following is an excerpt from their review of One Shark, No Swim, book 2 in the trilogy. To see the whole review, click here.
Tales From Pasifika 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 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.
Mahalo nui nui, Tales From Pasifika! You can find the entire Niuhi Shark Saga on Amazon: One Boy, No Water, book 1; One Shark, No Swim, book 2; One Truth, No Lie, book 3; and a companion story Birth: Zader’s Story. More books related to the series coming soon.
Note: Tales From Pasifika is a website dedicated to reviewing stories that explore Polynesian and Oceanic cultures and themes. If you’re looking for a good book that fits into the Pacific-Lit category, this is the place. Tales From Pasifika is reviewing the Niuhi Shark Saga. The following is an excerpt from their review of One Boy, No Water. To see the whole review, click here.
Tales From Pasifika 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 colorful 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.
Mahalo nui nui, Tales From Pasifika! You can find One Boy, No Water and the rest of the Niuhi Shark Saga One Shark, No Swim and One Truth, No Lie and its companion story Birth: Zader’s Story on Amazon. More books related to the series coming soon.
Kino and the King by Jen Angeli is a middle grade adventure quest set in Hawaii. Cutting to the chase, we need more stories like this one where island kids see themselves as the heroes and Hawaiian culture as something both amazing and ordinary, rather than sensationally exotic.
In the story, 12 year old Kino and her mother move to Hawaii to live with her maternal grandparents in Kalihi, Oahu. With her grandfather ill and her family facing eviction from their home, Kino discovers that she has an ancient destiny to save both Hawaii and her grandfather by going back in time to 1825. There she meets the young Kamehameha III just prior to his ascension to the throne. After meeting with a kahuna at a heiau, it becomes clear that in order to return to her own time, Kino must go on a quest for four objects gathered from various parts of Oahu—and of course the young prince is going to come along.
As the adventure quest plot unfolds, Jen deftly weaves in aspects of Hawaiian culture and history. Islanders will recognize kapu customs, protocol, and Hawaiian legends such as night marchers, Pele, Kamapua‘a, sacred waterfalls, ‘aumakua, choking ghosts, and magic gourds and calabashes.
1825 is a significant time in Hawaiian history, after the fall of the kapu system and during the first years of the Protestant missionaries’ influence. Hawaii is experiencing the growing pangs of contact with the wider world. In the story there’s a glimpse of the monumental civic and cultural challenges, but Jen is always conscious of her 4th – 8th grade audience and keeps the action moving. Topics are lightly touched upon in a way that can start discussions about these important topics. Kino and the King is respectful of Hawaiian history and culture. Teachers, parents, and librarians will find it provides a springboard for further reflection, study, and inquiry.
But as good as 1825 was, I gotta say I liked the modern conflicts best. Mean girls, romantic interests, class wars, private school snobbery, leasehold vs. fee simple landownership, high cost of living in paradise, afterschool enrichment classes in Hawaiian—it’s all here. Anyone growing up in Hawaii will instantly relate to Kino’s modern world—and those far from home will probably crave spam musubi reading about it.
Readers of The Niuhi Shark Saga books are certain to enjoy Kino and the King. Can’t wait for Jen Angeli’s next adventure.
Kino and the King by Jen Angeli is available in eBook and paperback from Amazon.
The signs lie.
Standing at the trailhead to Balcony House at Mesa Verde in Colorado, I thought I knew what I was getting into. When I bought tour tickets for family and friends the day before, the signs at the visitor’s center warned me about the 100 plus stairs I’d have to climb down and the rickety 32’ wooden ladder I’d have to scale—not to mention the assorted smaller ladders and uneven steps carved into the rock that I’d have to ascend.
It’s no secret that I’m not comfortable on ladders. Heights I can handle as long as I’m not somehow suspended in mid-air. Tall buildings? No problem. Ski lifts? No way. Zip lines? See ya.
Truth be told, I’m not fond of stairs either. I figure if modern people are supposed to climb more than a single flight of stairs at a time, God would not have allowed the invention of escalators and elevators.
Unfortunately, over the years I’ve also evolved into more of a sedentary cool, can I see it on Netflix? person than the gung ho let’s shoot our own documentary on site and live off rehydrated mac and cheese for a week person I used to be.
Some might say I’m lazy. I think of it as growing old enough to afford air conditioning and appreciate room service.
I knew going into it that this trip was supposed to be a throwback to the good old days when our two families camped and hiked together and made s’mores around the campfire with the kids—although this year we were staying in a hotel with indoor plumbing, hot water, and real beds and the only kids with us were our two seventeen year old caboose babies.
Everyone was jazzed. We’d traveled a long way to see the ruins of the Pueblo cliff dwellings on Memorial Day weekend, the first weekend of the year that the tours opened. None of us had ever been here. And while the thought of hanging off a cliff and swinging in the breeze made my stomach queasy, there are some things you just have to suck up and do.
Like a good sport, I bought the tickets, swapped out my rubbah slippahs for tennis shoes and socks, and slathered on sunscreen.
The whole night before I psyched myself for the climb up the 32’ ladder. I had a plan—look straight ahead and keep climbing like a machine. Don’t stop. Don’t look down. Don’t look up. Just do it.
I got this.
But then during the topside orientation the perky ranger holds up her hat. “And then near the end of the tour, you’ll crawl through the tunnel.”
What the what? Tunnel? Nobody said anything about a tunnel. There were no signs at the visitor’s center about crawling through a freaking tunnel.
“The tunnel is as wide as my hat. It’s 12 feet long and gets wider in the middle, then narrows back down to 18 inches. I want you to understand that once you put your foot on the tall ladder and start to ascend, there’s no going back. We all go up and out through the tunnel.”
Oh, baloney. No way the ADA would let that fly in a national park. There’s got to be a handicap by-pass or something.
A tall dude raises his hand. “Why not?”
Ranger Perky chirps, “It’s not safe to go backward. You have to go forward. There really is no going back.” She waves her hat around. “Don’t worry. Everyone here can fit. Trust me. Things squish—you just have to make them.”
Oh, no. Obviously, as an anorexic park ranger she’s never wrestled her lumps and bumps into spanx shapewear. Trust me. Things definitely do NOT compress or squish as much as everyone hopes. Doesn’t she know that in the olden days women wore corsets to get an 18 inch waist?
My corset days were looong in the rearview.
“Let’s go!” she says.
“I’m out,” says Tall Guy. “I’ll wait here.”
I open my mouth and turn to my husband.
He just looks at me and shrugs his shoulders.
I close my mouth and look around.
Seriously, who’s wider than me? I can’t be the only chunky monkey on this tour. That guy? Am I bigger than that guy? I mean around the middle. He looks one can shy of a keg. Anybody else? Not her. She’s smaller than me. Her, too. Him, him, her—all shopping the plus section, but smaller than me. Oh, no. Am I really the biggest person here? Did the ranger see me when she said everyone could fit through her hat? There’re a lot of people here, and I was standing way in the back. What happened to all the geriatric people I saw at the visitor’s center? Where are the folks with the walkers and canes? Why does everyone here look like a triathlete?
I bite my lip.
I say to my teen daughter, “I don’t think I can fit through an 18 inch hole.”
She pats my shoulder. “Mom, she said everyone could fit. Besides, that guy over there is bigger than you. Just go after him.”
I eye Keg Dude. Maybe he’s fatter, maybe not.
He’s oddly unconcerned.
Of course. He’s a dude.
He pulls a granola bar out of his pocket and starts munching.
He sees me watching him and waves. “The ranger said no food on the trail, so I’m eating this now. Don’t want to attract scavengers to the archeological site.”
Perhaps this info should make me feel better, but all it really does is make me afraid that he and I are both in denial. The whole tour is supposed to be an hour. Who carries snacks for an hour hike?
As we head down the trail, I whisper to my friend, “I’m not sure I can do this.” She’s known me from college, from before the kids and late night ice cream runs, when my skinny jeans were truly skinny and my waist was the same circumference as my current thigh.
She pats my arm. “We can do hard things.”
She’s thinking I’m afraid of the ladder and heights. Yes, we can do hard things, but not impossible things. Camels and eyes of needles come to mind.
We start down the 100 stairs. Desert heat radiates off the metal bolted into the side of the cliff. The stair edges are slick with wear, and I hold the rail in a sweaty death grip, certain that I’ll slip and bounce down the cliff.
On second thought, that would solve a lot of things. I consider loosening my grip, but then I imagine myself in a broken heap of blood and bones at the bottom and realize I’d probably chip my teeth on the way down and would have to go to the dentist.
I hate the dentist.
I hold a little tighter and creep down a little slower.
After lulling me with a gentle walk, eventually we turn a corner and come face to face with the 32’ ladder, the point of no return.
I glance at my friend. “We can do hard things,” she says again.
Yes, we can. We can bear children. We can sit through hours of piano recitals, soccer games, and debate tournaments and finish science fair projects at 3 am. We can cook Thanksgiving for 60 people and figure out what to get our MILs for Mother’s Day.
We tell our daughters to face their fears. I glance at mine with her long limbs and athlete’s grace. Will she ever listen to me again if I chicken out?
A small part of my brain recognizes the brilliance of this strategy. I’m so freaked out about the tunnel that climbing a ladder is no big deal.
At the top, there are a few more turns, and then a narrow passageway I squeeze through to get to the first big room. It’s dark. I can’t see with my sunglasses. I suck it in to get around the last bit.
I made it through the tunnel!
Except it’s not the tunnel. Apparently, the tunnel is much smaller and farther along the trail.
The Ranger is nattering on about kivas and rain water, but all I’m thinking about is the evening news where the lead story tonight will be about the daring rescue attempt to pull a wide load out of a narrow shaft.
Rescuers knock down a 1200 year old wall. Pueblo people weep at another westerner’s desecration of their ancestral homeland.
Helicopters and cranes are involved.
Conservationists cry that the cost to historic antiquities is too high, so they advocate simply cementing me in place.
Environmentalists claim that leaving my body to rot will pollute the natural eco-system and cause an explosion in the rat and insect population. They advocate removing me in pieces.
Exercise gurus stand at the entrance and shout at me to do isometrics until the bacon grease and butter finally melts off my derriere and they slid me out like birthing the world’s biggest baby.
Stuck in the tunnel there is nowhere to pee. For days.
I’m encased in a tight tunnel, underground, buried in a grave.
In the dark with the spiders, worms, and rats.
This is much, much worse than hauling myself up a freakishly tall and rickety wooden ladder.
Don’t ask me what Ranger Perky says about the ruins or history or culture. I don’t hear anything except the sighs of everyone about to be inconvenienced by my chocolate-loving body. Small children are about to be traumatized. Their therapy bills alone are going to break the bank.
I’m puffing hard before we even get there.
At the tunnel, I realize it’s a bunny-sized hole in a man-made wall. My friend who weighs what she did in high school, nonchalantly stops, drops, and slithers in.
I feel my daughter press against my back.
I can’t see Keg Dude. Did he climb the ladder? Is he even here or did he wisely chicken out?
I don’t know.
Prescription sunglasses—on or off? Too dark to see with them, too blind without them. Screw it. I leave them on. No place to put them that won’t get squished. On my face is the safest bet.
I bend down and firmly banish a nightmare memory of the last time I tried on spanx.
With my friend in front, I figure I can grab her ankle and use pressure to communicate through Morse code that things are not right. I’m pretty sure three long squeezes, three short squeezes, and three long squeezes are S.O.S. Like Lassie, she’ll go for help—after all her family is still behind me, trapped on the other side of the tunnel from hell. She’ll be motivated to work hard to see them again.
Maybe they’ll get a helicopter ride. They’d like that.
I’m grateful my daughter’s behind me. She won’t be afraid to shove, pinch, or push whatever gets stuck. She won’t be dainty. She’s an uber fit jockette with a teenager’s natural abhorrence of both public humiliation and her parents.
If I were Catholic, I’d cross myself and say a final Hail Mary. Instead I console myself with the famous Hawaiian chant, no make A, no make A. No matter what. No. Make. A.
I wiggle through the first part and almost weep with joy to discover how open the middle section is.
Behind me my daughter shrieks. “Oh, gross! Somebody spit in the tunnel! Mom! Watch where you’re going!”
“I don’t care,” I say. “I’m wearing my sunglasses. I can’t see in the dark.”
“Did you crawl right through it? I bet you did!”
The only thought I have is to wonder how much spit reduces friction.
I see the light ahead. The opening at the end is narrower than what I’ve already slithered through. I try not to think of corks and bottles. I fight the urge to try to swing my legs around so I can go out feet first—there’s no way I can do that. I have a quick flash of being stuck and folded like a taco. It’s not pretty.
My knee grinds on a stone. I feel skin tear and blood wells. I twist my shoulders and finally go for the least graceful but quickest exit I can do.
As I plop out onto the ground, my friend looks at me with the oddest expression on her face. I stumble to my feet.
My daughter pops out behind me. “See, Mom, told you you’d fit.”
I’m breathing hard, much harder than I should for such a little thing.
Later, safely in the parking lot, my husband of thirty years hugs me. “That was rough. I didn’t want to say anything, but I know that hike hit all of your buttons.”
Oh, yeah. Heights. Climbing. Underground. Small spaces. Tight spaces. Darkness. Fear of public humiliation. Shame for a once athlete’s now lack of physical fitness.
We can do hard things.
This is the part of a story where the heroine sees the error of her ways, knows she can accomplish great things, and decides to change her life by going on an exercise and diet program. The story ends with her successfully running a marathon in the fall and dedicating her life to rehabilitating adult couch potatoes and enforcing ADA rules at national parks.
But sadly, this isn’t fiction, at least not today.
Pass me the remote.
And the chips.
Turn up the AC. Mama needs a nap.
A Polynesians in Space Novella for
eBook Boxed Set 99 Cents until June 1, 2017
Click on the Book Nerd graphic to enter a drawing for a free $25 Amazon gift card as our mahalo nui loa for supporting our series.
He opens his mouth, but doesn’t say what’s on the tip of his tongue. He pauses, then asks, “I know you think of me as a fishing hook. What’s your nattoo for Lolo?”
I hang my head. “Pua‘a,” I mutter.
He stops mid-rub. “No way. Your symbol for our sister is a pig? Where is it?”
I don’t want to answer, but Imi’s relentless.
“Tell me, Nani, or I’ll strip search you myself. You know I can.”
“Are you on my side or not?” I scowl.
“Where’s our sister’s nattoo, Nani?”
I sigh. “On my okole. Left cheek.”
~Nani’s Kiss, Fractured Beauty
Kakau is the Hawaiian tradition of tattoo. I’ve always been fascinated by the history of kakau throughout Polynesia and love to hear personal stories about the images people choose to wear on their skin. Challenged to write a series of stories about Polynesians in the future, I knew kakau had to be a part of it.
Long before Disney’s Moana and Maui’s dancing tattoo version of himself that functions in the story as his Jimmy Cricket conscience, I had the what if idea of nanobots as tattoo ink. What if tattoos weren’t permanent? What if nanobot technology could change tattoos? What if you had to learn how to control them? What if there was an app that controlled them and it was in the hands of a villain?
What if, what if, what if?
In Nani’s Kiss, a Fairy Tale Five novella in the boxed set Fractured Beauty, Nani’s secret thoughts are displayed on her body by her nattoos, nanobots that form images.
I gotta tell you, I’m loving this story device. It’s set to appear in other stories, including the second boxed set of novellas from the Fairy Tale Five, Fractured Slipper, available September 2017.
Nani’s Kiss in Fractured Beauty is available in eBook. On June 1, 2017, the price jumps to $4.99, so don’t miss out!
Four authors accepted a challenge from Tork Media Publishing: reimagine the classic western fairy tale Beauty and the Beast.
Angela Brimhall’s beast is a terrifying sea monster cursed by a scorned gypsy. He must risk all to save the strong-willed princess before losing his last chance at love and redemption, becoming forever damned to the briny deep.
Lehua Parker’s Nani is trapped by Indian and Hawaiian traditions and a fiancé locked in stasis in a medi-mod. Cultures and expectations collide in this sci-fi futuristic world where nano-bot tattoos and dreams reveal the secret of Nani’s heart.
Angela Corbett’s Ledger is determined to find out more about the mysterious woman who saved him from certain death and uncover the secrets of Withering Woods, but some beasts are better left caged.
Adrienne Monson’s Arabella rushes to an enchanted castle to pay her father’s debt, but is met with a burly beast with a mysterious past. It’s a howling paranormal regency romp that will keep you turning pages well past your bedtime.