‘Ewa Which Way by Tyler Miranda peels back the bandage of what adults think adolescence is like to expose the raw, oozing strawberry of reality. I loved this book for its ability to show all the complicated rules, expectations, and entanglements of being a 12-year-old boy trying to make sense out of adult behavior. Set in ‘Ewa Beach, Hawaii in 1982, Landon DeSilva and his brother Luke know that lickins can fall from the sky like lightning, that a certain side-eye from a parent means a storm’s coming, and that sometimes no matter how long you hold your breath you can’t escape, but have to endure the wave to the end.
For Landon, things are bad at home, but not bad enough. Not enough for child protective services to swoop in and spirit Landon and Luke to a new home, not enough for the cops to do more than show up when his parents’ fights wake the neighbors, and not enough for his mother to realize her marriage is over. Throughout the novel Landon tries to figure out what he’s supposed to do when there’s really nothing he can. His parents’ troubles are deep—there’s guilt, prejudices of class and race, loss, alcohol abuse and valium popping coping mechanisms, unfulfilled expectations, and sheer dysfunction. Landon sees it all with the clarity of a twelve-year-old and his reactions and understandings are heartbreaking and true. Adult readers will read not only the story, but all the words and character motivations between the lines. It’s powerful, immediate, and like a bloody scrapped knee, painfully evocative of the transition between childhood and adulthood.
Tyler’s lyrical writing hit so many of the details of growing up in Hawaii pitch perfect—the politics of school bullies and teachers, the endless hours of chores (I so remember scrubbing toilets with Comet and Scott towels and weeding Saturday mornings in heat that felt like standing in a clothes dryer), frustration with siblings who seem to glory in amplifying the problems instead of flying under the radar, conflicting messages between Catholic church teachings and family actions, and the blessed escape an hour in the ocean can be. I particularly enjoyed Tyler’s description of surfing and futzing around in the shore break as a kid. It’s some of the most evocative passages about being in the ocean I’ve ever read.
There’s an argument in literary circles about the difference between books about kids and books for kids, with the educational conceit that kids will read stories about characters their age and a little older, but not younger. While Landon begins the novel as a sixth grader, (well, technically looking back to sixth grade), this book is not for the fourth–seventh grade crowd. My recommendation is for readers grade eight to adult for several reasons.
‘Ewa Which Way is finely crafted as literary fiction and by that I mean it’s rich in symbolism, allegory, metaphor, and has well-developed themes. As entertaining as it is, it’s also perfect for deconstruction in a literature class for kids old enough to appreciate the nuances in the writing. There is much for readers to explore in this novel that goes beyond a simple analysis of plot, character development, and setting. Like To Kill a Mocking Bird, Huck Finn, and The Chosen, ‘Ewa Which Way is a peek into a world few readers know and understand with a storyline that feels universal. (And yes, I do consider ‘Ewa Which Way a Pacific Lit equivalent to Huck Finn. Thanks for asking.)
Another challenge is the language—there’s a lot of Pidgin English construction in the dialogue, mainly dis, dat, an’ da oddah ting kind of phrasing. This version of Pidgin is common on ‘Oahu public school playgrounds, and I think ultimately easier for the non-Pidgin speaker to understand than a more a hard-core version of Pidgin liberally sprinkled with words like hammajang, lolo, and pau. In telling his story Tyler used an authentic interpretation of Hawaiian Pidgin English’s sounds and rhythms that native Pidgin speakers will have no trouble reading, but it requires a little more decoding for English-only speakers. I think this extra work puts it out of the range of most mainland elementary and intermediate readers.
A final red flag that it’s for older kids is the occasional swearing, which might make parents and teachers of younger readers uncomfortable. Don’t worry, the language isn’t a gratuitous Sopranos-bar-of-soap-on-the-tongue fest and it’s used to good effect. Yes, I understand kids know, hear, and use these words, but parents and teachers are the ones who buy the books, and in their eyes, there’s a big difference between what’s appropriate for sixth and eighth grade. It’s the only reason I mentioned it.
I loved this book and can’t recommend it too highly. It’s the kind of novel that makes you think about all the Landons in the world and the DeSilvas next door. Readers looking to remember growing up in Hawaii or wanting to experience life as an island kid are in for a real treat.
‘Ewa Which Way by Tyler Miranda is published by Bamboo Ridge Press and is available in trade paperback at most Hawaii bookstores and Costco or online at Bamboo Ridge Press, SPD, Barnes & Noble, or Amazon.
On June 21, 2013 I was privileged to meet some very talented young authors at Brigham Young University. Click on Fan Art to see how they answered the question, “What would you draw on the bottom of a surfboard to chase away a shark?”
Telesa: The Covenant Keeper, book 1 in the Telesa Series by Lani Wendt Young is nothing but trouble. It starts out innocently enough with orphaned Leila Folger as a recent private all girls’ high school graduate leaving Washington D.C. against her grandmother’s wishes to meet her mother’s Samoan family for the first time. Born with a privileged silver spoon and raised by her recently deceased Caucasian father, it’s easy to predict the conflicts of wealth vs. modest means, American permissiveness vs. traditional Samoan conservative values, and the culture shock of everything from the food to church to going to school with boys. Lani nails all the angst of being on the cusp of womanhood perfectly and these themes are well-developed and a pleasure to read.
But Sistah Lani didn’t stop there and that’s why this book is Trouble with a capital T. After I started reading, dishes piled in the sink. Kids were late to piano and soccer and shhhhh, Mom’s working was yelled all too frequently. Dinner? Order pizza, I’m busy.
Fo’real. The Covenant Keeper takes Samoan legends of Teine Sa and Pele, who I know best as the Hawaiian goddess of volcanos, and creates a new mythology that sizzles. Hoping to discover her Samoan roots, Leila uncovers family secrets beyond anything you can imagine.
I love that Leila is a modern woman who questions her gifts with a scientific mind. She respects tradition, but isn’t afraid to blaze her own trail or shake up the status quo.
Did I mention the love triangle? Break out the fans, people! I doubt there is anything more beautiful than a young Samoan man who is kind, moral, graceful, and athletic. Sparkly vampires? Give me a break! One love song from Daniel and you won’t remember why you liked vampires or werewolves in the first place.
And that’s the key–like the Twilight series this book is written for young adults from their perspective. Leila’s powers, love, relationships, and emotions are raw, new, and overwhelming. If you can remember being 18 and in love for the first time, you’ll be highly entertained as you escape to a fantastical vision of life in Samoa for an afternoon.
Telesa: The Covenant Keeper by Lani Wendt Young is self-published and available from Amazon as an eBook and trade paperback. Don’t miss the other works in the series, I am Daniel Tahi, When Water Burns, and The Bone Bearer.
Telesa Series Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Telesa-Trilogy/146318935466086?fref=ts
Lehua, Ka‘ao a ka Wahine, by Gene J. Parola combines historical narrative with forbidden romance to paint a portrait of life in Hawai‘i circa 1819, just as Queen Ka‘ahumanu lifts the kapu, essentially abolishing the ancient Hawaiian religion and turning the caste system on its head. It’s a period of Hawaiian history that is often glossed over as teachers tend to quickly move to the coming of the Christian missionaries soon after, and I appreciated a more thoughtful approach to the effect these changes had on both the ali‘i and maka‘ainana—chiefs and commoners alike.
When I studied Hawaiian history in school, Queen Ka‘ahumanu’s actions were portrayed as noble, wise, modern. It’s only lately that the hardships of the kapu system and other less noble motives such as a desire for worldly material possessions at too high a cost are being openly discussed as part of a more balanced conversation about that time.
As a descendant of both the white merchants and the ali‘i, I remember many family conversations, arguments really, about the reasons the Hawaiian nation was eventually conquered by business interests supported by the US government and whether or not this was a pono. Through Lehua’s journey, I was better able to understand the different points of view.
I just wish I could go back in time to some of those family discussions and ask more questions!
Lehua is the first in a trilogy that follows a young ali‘i woman through this turbulent time. I look forward to continuing the conversation.
Connect with Gene J. Parola
If you scratched Kiana Davenport, beneath her sophisticated, erudite veneer I think you’d find the heartbeat of a no-nonsense Waimanalo titah, a contradiction that makes her work a delight to read.
I just finished Opium Dreams, volume three in her Pacific Stories collection, and like in her previous volumes Cannibal Nights and House of Skin, I found myself slipping into the skins of the narrators. You don’t read her stories so much as breathe them along with her characters. Her eye for the small telling detail that reveals epic amounts of information is exquisite and her deft handling of imagery often makes the prose sing like poetry.
Da titah can write. Period.
I’ve admired Kiana’s work for a long time. Her main characters are often mixed-raced Polynesian women trying to make a life for themselves on the margins of western culture. The women in her stories survive abuse, make poor choices, bow under the burdens of history and culture, and fall to the whims of turn-on-a-dime fate. They also seize life and triumph in ways large and small. They are spectacularly flawed, raw, and real. Kiana has the knack of taking something alien to most western experiences and making it universal.
In Opium Dreams, her stories are about anger and revenge, self-destruction, the inevitable consequences of action vs. inaction, and the grace of forgiveness. In Kiana’s worlds, family is who you chose, and that choice is everything.
Opium Dreams by Kiana Davenport is available as an eBook through Amazon and is her first foray into self-publishing. It’s a steal at 99 cents. Be sure to check out her other titles: House of Skin, Cannibal Nights, Shark Dialogues, House of Many Gods, Song of the Exile, and The Spy Lover. I guarantee you’ll be haunted by these characters’ lives for years.
Pono is a complex Hawaiian word with connotations of righteousness, balance, and propriety. It’s one of the themes I try to develop in the Niuhi Shark Saga as characters make choices that place them in or out of being pono.
Ho‘o means to do or make; so ho‘o pono describes a way of being, of living one’s life in harmony with correct principles. As a student at The Kamehameha Schools, our Hawaiian culture teacher once told us that if there was only one thing we could remember from our time with her, she wanted it to be the concept of ho‘o pono. While I can’t remember all the place names we memorized, which fish were kapu during which seasons, or the number of voyages to Tahiti and back, I do remember her words about ho‘o pono.
So it was with great interest that I picked up Pali Jae Lee’s book Ho‘o pono: The Hawaiian Way to Put Things Back into Balance. Part oral history, part memoir, the book shares some of the family traditions and stories handed down from Ka‘ili‘ohe and Makaweliweli descendants from Molokai.
One of the central stories is really a parable about ho‘o pono. All children are born with an upright bowl of Light that grows with them and allows them to know and understand all things. But when a child is resentful or envious, he drops a stone into his bowl and a little of the Light goes out. If enough stones fill his bowl, the child becomes like stone, unable to move or grow. By turning his bowl over, the stones fall away and Light comes back.
It’s a simple, beautiful, and elegant metaphor for all the baggage we carry—no matter the era. These and other parables help give a voice to the past in ways that resonate with the future.
There was a time in Hawaiian families when nothing sacred or significant was shared with outsiders because only family would understand and respect the deeper truths. Looking at Hollywood’s version of Hawaiian culture, it’s not a big stretch to say what is often portrayed as Hawaiian has been misinterpreted, twisted, or fabricated out of whole cloth. But times are changing, and as more families are coming forward with their histories that challenge common perceptions, a clearer, truer picture of Hawaiian culture is emerging.
May all your bowls be filled with Light.
Ho‘o pono: The Hawaiian Way to Put Things Back into Balance by Pali Jae Lee is published by I.M. Publishing, Ltd. and is available as an eBook, hardcover, and trade paperback from Amazon.
As a mail carrier in Kaneohe, Hawaii, Louise Golden brings a little aloha to the people along her route. When elderly Conchita Santos doesn’t meet her at the mailbox for the first time in two years, Louise goes looking. The house is unlocked, Pipsqueak the dog is unfed, and Mrs. Santo’s purse is still inside. Fearing the worst, Louise files a missing persons report and begins her own investigation, an investigation that leads to murder, a movie set, new shoes, a French manicure, and a hand-carved tiki with a secret.
Not your everyday week in paradise no matter how stellar the weather.
Almost Paradise, a Louise Golden Mystery by Laurie Hanan is a breezy afternoon beach read, an entertaining escape to sunny Hawaii. The protagonist, Louise Golden, is unmoored, drifting through life after a devastating loss. Nothing seems very permanent in Louise’s life. Through routines that include folk dance groups, piano sing along dates, Scrabble games, and peanut butter sandwiches Louise connects to the world through the family she creates. It’s busy, but not really fulfilling until she reaches out of her comfort zone and begins to grow. I’ve got the feeling that learning to make plumeria leis is just the start.
Almost Paradise, a Louise Golden Mystery by Laurie Hanan is published by Savant Books and Publications, LLC and is available in paperback and eBook from Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Be sure to look for book two, How Far is Heaven.
It’s not surprising that the latest census figures show that there are far more Hawaiians living outside of Hawai‘i than in it. Pepper Bibeau, the central figure in For Every Action There are Consequences by Gail M. Baugniet, fits into the pattern of islanders leaving for economically greener pastures, but trying to keep a bit of aloha in their lives.
After serving as a nurse in Vietnam, Pepper finds herself investigating insurance claims in 1968 Chicago, a time of racial unrest and social change. Along with unraveling the truth about medical claims and insurance fraud Pepper has to solve the murder of a friend killed while wearing Pepper’s coat. Wondering if the murder was mistaken identity, Pepper’s investigation leads her to explore things as diverse as sickle-cell anemia and drug trafficking.
Readers of crime fiction and mystery will feel at home here. It’s fast paced and easy to read, full of small details that pin it to the late 1960s. Descriptions of social norms and Pepper’s feelings about her Hawaiian identity being lumped into other ethnic groups was spot on. As late as the 1980s my sister’s modeling agency in Utah had her listed as ‘light black’ because ‘Hawaiian’ wasn’t on their radar no matter how often she corrected them. Pepper’s experiences in Chicago remind us of how far we’ve come.
What intrigued me most were the interactions Pepper had with her Hawai‘i ‘ohana. The Pidgin dialogue is used sparingly and to good effect. I really want to know more about Pepper’s son and the family raising him in Hawai’i!
Good thing book two in the series, Deadly as Nature, Envy Spawns Grief, is now available. I won’t have long to wait.
For Every Action There are Consequences and Deadly as Nature, Envy Spawns Grief, the first two books in the Pepper Bibeau Mystery series by Gail M. Baugniet, are self-published and available as paperbacks and eBooks on Amazon.
Connect with Gail M. Baugniet
We are all products of our pasts, a combination of long ago childhood experiences and what we ate last night. Like an order of deluxe saimin noodles, Blood Orchids, the first book in The Lei Crime Series by Toby Neal is a multi-layered and nuanced murder mystery.
There are two mysteries—the noodles and miso soup of the novel. Lei Texeira is a beat cop in Hilo, Hawaii trying to figure out who’s murdering women and who’s playing a cat and mouse stalking game by leaving notes on her doorstep. There are a lot of possibilities and questions about whether it’s one perp or three and whether the crimes are related.
As the mystery deepens, Lei finds out more about her past and begins to understand how the abuses she triumphed in childhood continue to shape her today. Like thin slices of teri beef these revelations add substance to the soup by allowing the reader to infer more about the characters and their motivations than they know themselves.
There’s a budding romance angle—the chopped green onion—and extended family relationships—the pink and white striped fish cake—but the real seasoning is in Neal’s deft handling of the setting. It’s a difficult thing to write a novel for a wide audience that authentically portrays life in Hawaii and Toby’s nailed it. She balances on the fine high wire of explaining just enough that readers unfamiliar with the culture get it without boring or oversimplifying it in the eyes of islanders. There’s a little Pidgin dialogue in Blood Orchids—Pidgin Light, you could say—enough to add flavor without a lot of work on the part of non-native speakers.
One of the highest compliments I can give is that Toby makes the setting seem normal and natural. Yes, it’s set in Hawaii. Yes, there are beaches, kālua pig plate lunches, funerals with remembrance stones, and all respected elders are called aunty and uncle, but none of this is center stage or explained too deeply. It’s all about the characters and the story.
And what a story it is.
Blood Orchids, book one in The Lei Crime Series by Toby Neal is self-published and available as a trade paperback and eBook on Amazon and on her website. Can’t wait to read the sequels: Torch Ginger, Black Jasmine, and Broken Fern.
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Daughters of Fire by Tom Peek is an epic speculative novel set in contemporary Hawaii. Like a local plate lunch special, it’s a mix of many different genres, an unexpected combination of flavors and tastes that work well together. It’s a romance. It’s a murder mystery. It’s a political thriller. It’s a social commentary on traditional Pacific vs. western world views. It’s a speculative tale of ancient gods and goddesses, curses, prophecies, and traditions. It spans everything island-style from mo’o legends to bento boxes and from the politics of lounge singing to the politics of international stargazing.
On the surface, Daughters of Fire is the story of three strong Hawaiian women: an anthropologist who works with corporate developers to identify and preserve ancient sites, an elderly traditional healer and seer, and a young Hawaiian rights activist. The stories intertwine as a murder occurs, a controversial mega-tourist resort opens, legalize gambling rears its head, and reports of an imminent volcanic eruption are hidden from the public.
Despite its convoluted storylines, it’s an easy, entertaining read. Readers familiar with the landscape and culture will appreciate the authenticity and those new to Hawaii will get a taste of the complexity of island culture without feeling lost. If you’re looking for a book to take on a trip—or to remember your Big Island vacation—this one satisfies.
Get the book on Amazon
Connect with Tom Peek