Mark Panek’s Big Happiness tells the true story of Hawaiian sumo wrestler Percy Kipapa and his tragic murder on May 16, 2005. On the surface, the investigative journalism narrative reads as a mystery, a meditation on what it means to be a modern Hawaiian, and a commentary on the ice epidemic and the tangled Yakuza-Hawaii webs of commerce, money, and prestige. It’s compelling and raw. Knowing one of the key participants personally, I found it both hard to read and tough to put down.
You see, it’s also the story of one of my childhood calabash cousins, Tyler Hopkins.
After I left Hawaii for the mainland, Tyler went to Japan and became best friends with Percy. According to the Mark Panek, who knew the adult Tyler in ways I didn’t, Tyler’s life paralleled Percy’s in every significant way. Big Happiness details how they rose to become professional Hawaiian sumo wrestlers in Japan and what happened after they retired and returned to Hawaii.
I remember when Tyler was first going to Japan. He told me about it at my wedding reception at Mid-Pac Country Club thirty-one years ago, the last time I saw him in person. He was happy, and the extended ‘ohana was excited. Sumo was something my big-hearted and athletic cousin was sure to succeed at. His future was assured. Good for him!
Tyler’s sumo name was Sunahama. Living far from Japan and Hawaii before the age of internet video, it was hard for me to follow his career. Over the years, whenever I met up with my calabash Hawaiian ‘ohana, I asked aunties, uncles, and cousins for updates. Each time I was told he was doing well—first climbing the sumo ranks and then retired and working in Hawaii. Tyler was always on the verge of doing something—tourism with Japanese groups, teaching Japanese, finding his groove as a school counselor, or starting a new business venture.
In Big Happiness, Mark Panek paints a different picture.
I knew to be a foreign sumo wrestler in Japan would be rough. I knew the pressures local kids face to “make good.” I knew how the ideals of sacrifice of self for a greater good—however that’s defined—were ingrained in Tyler. Suck it up was something our uncles told us all the time, and it applied to everything from wiping out on a wave and spitting sand to breaking a bone playing baseball to studying hard in school when playing seemed more fun to never, ever failing to be loyal to ‘ohana no matter what the personal cost.
I even suspected how the Yakuza would be involved.
But what I didn’t understand was ice. Or how much that changed Hawaii in the years after I left. I also didn’t think too deeply about how few opportunities Tyler would have had once he returned to Hawaii. Unlike Japan, there aren’t cushy jobs in corporate America waiting for retired sumo wrestlers.
I’m old enough to know that there really wasn’t anything I could’ve done to help Tyler. But my heart hurts when I remember the kid I had to swim out and rescue when his raft went out too far at Waimanalo Beach or the time we made homemade pizza and Tyler complained I added too much cheese. “No such thing,” I said. “Yeah,” he said, rubbing his opu and the scar he got when he fell through a glass shower door and almost died, “there is.”
But mostly, I can see all too clearly a moment Mark Panek describes during the trial where Tyler almost snaps. I thank God that Mark intervened.
Big Happiness by Mark Panek is available as a paperback and eBook from Amazon. For anyone wanting an insider’s view of sumo wrestling or the life of local boys in Hawaii, this book is a must read. Compelling, real, and full of heart and tragedy, it’s a story of sacrifice, privileges of race and class, and the devastating effects of ice and all the vested interests in keeping the status quo.
Matthew Kaopio’s Written in the Sky is one of those rare books told from a kid’s perspective that’s not for kids. It’s raw and real, and certainly true to the experiences of many homeless kids in Hawaii, but it’s not one I’d give to a kid the age of ‘Ikauikalani, the abandoned Hawaiian kid at the center of the story. The language is coarse, the action violent, and the circumstances bleak. But for anyone high school or older, it’s a must read in the cannon of Pacific Literature.
Written in the Sky tells the story of ‘Ikauikalani, a middle grader who is adrift after the death of his grandmother. Through ‘Ikaui’s daily experiences, we see firsthand the effects of mental illness, drug abuse, bullying, and dispossession faced by the homeless living in Ala Moana Park. We see how ‘Ikaui struggles to eat, keep clean, and fill his days. There’s real physical danger of death as well as a fear of spiritual death if ‘Ikaui’s swept up by social services. But in the middle of a survive or die situation, there are remarkable moments of grace that allow ‘Ikaui to thrive, to choose to be someone who helps instead of hordes, and to ultimately create a family—an ‘ohana in the truest sense—where there were once only strangers in Ala Moana Park. The kindness of college students, fast food workers, guardian angels, and others allow ‘Ikaui to discover who he is, connect his amazing gifts with his ancestral past, and heal generational wounds.
It’s a book that can be read on many levels. To say it’s about kindness triumphing over evil dilutes what I think is the real message at the heart of the story. I loved the way traditional Hawaiian culture and values were woven into the narrative.
For me, the one jarring element was the Indian guest lecturer who gives ‘Ikaui insight into his gifts. While I appreciate the pan-world, indigenous peoples, we-are-all-one perspective, I would’ve have liked to have seen this insight come from a kupuna. It’s a small rub in a beautifully paced novel and doesn’t really distract from the overall story. However, it’s an odd choice that rings true, and I wonder if the author based some of this novel on his own experiences or on people he knows.
Written in the Sky by Matthew Kaopio is available in paperback and eBook from Amazon. If you love Hawaii and Hawaiian literature, this is an exceptional book.
The 19th Biennial Conference on Literature and Hawai’i’s Children takes place June 7-9 at Chaminade University in Honolulu, Hawaii. I’ll be hosting two workshops–one specifically for teens–all about writing fiction in authentic Pacifica voices and answering questions about traditional and self publishing.
On Thursday, June 7 at 7 pm, the Honolulu Theater for Youth will be performing excerpts from works by Lee Cataluna, Patrick Ching, and Lehua Parker. The performances are also FREE, but you need tickets. (Link below)
The conference is FREE for all attendees, but you have to register. Teens will need parental/guardian permission to participate. (Link below)
Hope to see you there! Be sure to come by and talk story with me!
I’m five years old, laying on the carpet in our living room in Kahului, Maui. Evening trade winds tiptoe through the lanai door, bathing the house with the scent of Mom’s gardenia and naupaka bushes. On top the tv, an animated Santa Claus dances with a big red sack, singing about ashes and soot. My eyes dart to the flimsy cardboard cutout of a fireplace and chimney taped to the wall next to the Christmas tree. Panic bubbles. I can’t breathe.
He doesn’t even look up from the Honolulu Star Bulletin. “What?”
“How does Santa Claus come into the house?”
“Down da chimney, lolo. You deaf or wot? Jes’ listen to da song.” He turns a page.
I bite my lip. I have to know. “But Dad, Mom bought our chimney at Long’s. It doesn’t connect to the roof. Plus we no more snow! How da reindeer gonna land da sleigh on top da roof if no get snow?”
He flicks the edge of the newspaper down and peers at me. He shakes his head. “Moemoe time, Lehua. You need your rest.”
Tears well. No Santa. No presents. So unfair. Mainland kids get all the good stuffs. I try again. “Dad, fo’reals. Is Santa going skip us?”
Dad presses his lips tight and gives me small kine stink eye. He clears his throat and looks around the room. When he spocks the lanai door, his eyes light up. “You ever seen a house in Hawaii with no more sliding door?”
He nods. “Maika‘i. Every house get sliding doors. Das because in Hawai‘i, Santa comes through the lani door instead of down the chimney. In Hawai‘i we invite our guests into our homes like civilized people. We no make dem sneak in like one thief.”
I tip my head to the side, thinking. “But what about da reindeer?”
Dad clicks his tongue. “Da buggahs magic, yeah? They no need land. They just hover in the backyard and wait for Santa fo’ come back. Mebbe snack on da banana trees. Now go to bed!”
It’s not the first time I have to perform mental gymnastics to bridge what I see in movies, tv, and books with my oh, so different reality, but it’s one of the most memorable. At school the teachers try to prep us for mandatory standardized testing, tests we island kids consistently score lower on than our mainland peers.
“Class, what does it mean if the trees have no leaves?” Ms. Yamaguchi asks. “Lehua?”
“Uh, da trees stay make die dead?” I say. “Dey nevah get enough water?”
“No! It means it’s winter! The correct answer is winter! Coodesh! Pay attention. You kids trying fo’ fail?”
It would be many years later, when I am in college in Utah and walking through a virgin snowfall along a wooded path that I finally understand the imagery and symbolism in Conrad Aiken’s “Silent Snow, Secret Snow” in ways more profound than no leaves equals cold equals winter.
Which brings me, finally, to my point.
We need diversity in literature. Kids need access to stories that resonate with their experiences, that are full of people they know and love, that show themselves—their fully authentic selves—as powerful, valued, and real. We need Pacific voices raised in song, dance, print, film, tv—all forms of media, some not even invented yet.
I remember the profound impact of hearing Andy Bumatai, Frank Delima, and Rap Reiplinger on the radio. Hawaiian music, for sure, all the time, but spoken words, Pidgin words, so fast and funny, just like Steve Martin and Bill Cosby! To this day, my old fut classmates and I can still recite all the words to “Room Service” and “Fate Yanagi.”
And finally, I find them. Words on paper, in libraries, in books. Stories by Graham Salisbury, Lois-Ann Yamanaka, Darrell H. Y. Lum, Kiana Davenport, and Lee Tonouchi open my eyes to the possibility of using my history and experiences, my voice, to tell stories to an audience that didn’t need long explanations about why whistling in the dark is not a good thing, that a honi from Tutu was a given, or that wearing shoes in the house is the ultimate outsider insult.
I could write stories where the burden to bridge is on the mainland, not the islands. I could write stories for kids in Waimanalo, Kona, Hana, Lihue.
But there’s a catch. The reality is that there are many more readers outside of Hawai‘i nei than in it. Books for niche audiences are a tough sell for traditional publishers who are driven by the bottom line. And while self-publishing or small press publishing is viable for genres like romance, thrillers, and sci-fi, it’s next to impossible for middle grade and young adult books who need the vast marketing channels of a traditional publisher to reach schools and libraries.
I try not to let that matter.
On the mainland, I tell people my books are not for everyone. If you don’t know the difference between mauka and makai, you’re probably going to struggle a bit with the language. You’ll miss a lot of the in-jokes and clues as to what’s really going on with the characters and plot. You’ll have to work a lot harder.
But it will be worth it.
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. The following is an excerpt from their review of Rell Goes Hawaiian, one of the five novellas in the Fractured Beauty boxed set. To see the full review, click here.
Tales From Pasifika Review
When Rell comes to Hawaii with her stepmother, Regina, and two bratty and more-than-annoying stepsisters, she realizes it isn’t to celebrate her 18thbirthday. Instead of having fun, she needs to sign papers, take care of her stepsiblings, and do whatever Regina tells her to do.
The girl’s life changes immeasurably when her stepsisters push the sacred aumakua stone into the saltwater pool at Piko Point. Suddenly, with a little help from a special wagging friend, Rell gets more that she has ever wished for.
A contemporary ‘Cinderella’ story set in tropical Hawaii? Why not! You would think that this clichéd theme couldn’t result in anything interesting. After all, we all know how the tale goes. But in this case, you may get slightly surprised.
First and foremost, this novella takes readers back to Lauele Town, so well-known from Lehua Parker’s Niuhi Shark Saga. You get the chance to catch up with the old characters – uncle Kahana, Ilima, Jerry Santos, Tuna to name a few – and get to know them better or see them in a different light. Bringing back individuals from previous novels is always a treat for loyal fans. Especially if the author makes sure to further develop their storylines or add some extra layers to their personalities. What has Jerry, the surfer who witnessed Jay’s accident in the ocean, been doing? Is uncle Kahana still the guiding spirit of local community? And what about Ilima? Could she act as a fairy godmother? Obviously, she could (in Lauele Town, anything is possible), but don’t expect her to be that I-am-here-to-make-your-dreams-come-true type of a godparent. She has her own hidden agenda. Plus, with four legs and a tail she just couldn’t be your ordinary fairy, could she?
Along with the old characters, a few new ones make an appearance. Typically for a fairy tale, there are heroes and villains – and in this case it is not hard to guess who is who. Rell and Regina, the two new introductions and main characters in this story, are plausible and decently crafted, but perhaps too obvious as ‘symbols’; they lack a little bit of substance. But let’s bear in mind this is a novella, so not everything can be achieved.
Now, while the overall plot is somewhat predictable, the specific scenes are not. There are quite a few surprises thrown in, and I have to say they really keep things interesting. Even though you can foresee the ending, you are not able to guess the sequence of events that lead to it. Add to this a tropical island setting, traditional Hawaiian folklore, and a Polynesian vibe, and you get the best Cinderella tale possible.
Reading this story is a pure pleasure. It is a very engaging and even more enjoyable piece of literature, chock-full of Aloha spirit and effortless wisdom, which make it perfect for children and adults alike. So visit Lauele Town; I promise, you won’t regret doing so.
Mahalo, Tales From Pasifika! You can find Rell Goes Hawaiian in Fractured Slipper on Amazon. More in the Fractured Series by Fairy Tale Ink 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. The following is an excerpt from their review of Nani’s Kiss, one of the five novellas in the Fractured Beauty boxed set. To see the full review, click here.
Tales From Pasifika Review
Nani has always known that one day she will marry Arjun. Even though she doesn’t know him very well, even though she is not sure she really loves him, she understands this is her destiny. Their parents arranged it a long time ago and Nani must fulfill their wishes. If only it was so simple. Unfortunately, it isn’t.
Arjun is dying. Since he collapsed, he has been locked in stasis in a medi-mod. What if he doesn’t survive? What will happen to their future? Risking everything, Nani is desperate to bring her fiancé back to life.
Is it possible to write a futuristic story anchored in traditional cultures? You have to admit, it is no mean feat. Lehua Parker dared try to do just that. And I think it’s safe to say she has succeeded.
‘Nani’s Kiss’ is a sci-fiction version of ‘Beauty and the Beast’ (only the beast is not who you expect it is), which takes from Hawaiian and Indian cultures. It’s a rather unusual mix and one that can be easily ruined. But Lehua Parker managed to keep the right proportions of all the elements, thanks to which the novella makes an interesting read.
The storyline engages the reader right from the beginning, and as it evolves you become more and more curious as to what will happen next. The unforeseen twists and turns keep you riveted and don’t let you get bored even for a short while. However, they also require your undivided attention.
I have to warn you that this novella is not the easiest to read. If you want to follow the plot, you really have to concentrate on the words. There are a lot of fictional names of characters and places you may simply have trouble keeping in mind. They make the story slightly confusing, which for some readers may be a minor put off.
The characters themselves are incredibly well-built for such a short tale. They are believable, and we must remember that the novella takes place in the future, and easy to relate to. With their hopes, dreams, and fears, they are like ordinary human beings. And despite the fact that their backgrounds are not as clearly shown as we would all want, you get the feeling that you know their past quite well.
Now, although the story isn’t set in Hawaii, the local customs and practices are very noticeable. Especially the tradition of tattooing. But forget about permanent drawings here. In the world the author has created, nano-bot tattoos appear and then dissolve, only to reappear on a different part of a person’s body. The images they form reveal the intimate secrets of one’s heart and soul, and for a novice are impossible to hide.
The idea – a brilliant idea – of giving a futuristic twist to one of the oldest Polynesian traditions shows how the past can connect with the future. It also reminds us that some things in life should never be forgotten.
‘Nani’s Kiss’ is without a doubt a very interesting novella. The concept is truly fascinating, so I am positive you won’t feel let down when you give it a try. I definitely recommend it!
Mahalo nui nui, Tales From Pasifika! You can find Nani’s Kiss in Fractured Beauty on Amazon. More in the Fractured Series by Fairy Tale Ink coming soon.
Ilima, everyone’s favorite dog who isn’t a dog, is back in a new adventure!
In Rell Goes Hawaiian, you’ll catch up with Ilima, Uncle Kahana, Jerry Santos, and other characters from The Niuhi Shark Saga in a newly imagined version of Cinderella.
When Rell Watanabe is summoned from the mainland by her stepmonster Regina to Poliahu’s estate in upcountry Lauele, Hawaii, she should’ve known it wasn’t to celebrate her birthday. Despite Jerry Santo’s aloha hospitality, being in paradise isn’t all fun in the sun. Rell spends her birthday signing papers, taking care of her bratty stepsisters, and preparing for a big auction to benefit the International Abilities Surf Camp sponsored by Jay Westin and Nili-boy.
After Rell’s wicked stepsisters push the sacred aumakua stone Pohaku into the big saltwater pool at Piko Point, things rapidly fall apart. Banned from attending the auction, Rell wishes on a star and gets waaaaay more than she bargained for when Ilima shows up to settle a score.
Things take a sinister turn when Rell discovers the real reason Regina is sponsoring the auction and her plans for Rell’s family land in Lauele. It’s going to take more than Ilima’s bibbitty-bobbity-boo to make things right—but don’t call ever call Ilima a fairy godmother.
Rell Goes Hawaiian is a magical realism story where the supernatural and the ordinary live side-by-side. Menehune and other Hawaiian legends of gods and goddess walk Lauele Town. Don’t blink or you’ll miss them.
Rell Goes Hawaiian is a novella included in Fractured Slipper, a boxed set of 5 Cinderella novellas by award-winning and best-selling authors. Fractured Slipper is Book 2 in the Fairy Talk Ink series.
Until January 18, 2018, you can pre-order the eBook of Fractured Slipper for only 99 cents!
Fairy Tale Ink Series
Includes Nani’s Kiss, a tale of Polynesians in space.
Includes: Rell Goes Hawaiian, a Lauele Town Novella
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.