YA Hawaiian Cosmic Horror! At last!
Austin Aslan’s The Islands at the End of the World and The Girl at the Center of the World are rip roaring, seat-of-your-pants thrilling Hawaiian YA cosmic horror / apocalypse novels. Set in modern day Hawai‘i, this duology explores what might happen if all of the communication, electricity, and other modern conveniences were suddenly cataclysmically disrupted worldwide.
Cut off from the rest of the world, 16 year old Leilani and her father must figure out how to get from Waikiki back to their ‘ohana in Hilo, a journey that takes them island hopping from O’ahu to Molokai to Maui and beyond. Islanders must figure out how to survive in an environment when 95% of everything is shipped in, including tourists with nowhere to go. The US Military, of course, has their own ways of handling things, and it’s not focused on helping islanders. Factions and gangs form as violence breaks out under too real pressures.
These books check a lot of boxes: YA, strong female protagonist, epilepsy as both a challenge and a savior, multi-cultural, ecology-minded, light romance, set in Hawai‘i with authentic cultural resonances, apocalyptic horror, aliens, local and external big bads, and strong family relationships to name a few. It’s a duology perfect for educators and YA readers looking for a survivalist adventure story with an authentically Hawaiian spin.
Most of the islander-isms rang true, although there were a few times things were a little off. For example, the stink eye was used consistently—that edit has to be from an outside editor’s pen. The story itself is wildly imaginative and grounded in Leilani coming to understand that her epilepsy may be the one thing that saves us all. In the end, family is who you say it is—few things are more Hawaiian than that.
These books do describe the end of the way things are now, so there is some violence and swearing which puts these stories in the 9th grade and up category, but nothing is overtly gratuitous. If anything, its understatement makes these events all the more impactful when they occur.
I highly recommend The Islands at the End of the World and The Girl at the Center of the World. We need more speculative fiction stories with Hawaiians and islanders firmly in the center, where their islandness isn’t exotic, but normal, and their adventures unreal.