“In 1995 Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, on a rare family vacation, seven-year-old Nainoa Flores falls overboard a cruise ship into the Pacific Ocean. When a shiver of sharks appears in the water, everyone fears for the worst. But instead, Noa is gingerly delivered to his mother in the jaws of a shark, marking his story as the stuff of legends.
Nainoa’s family, struggling amidst the collapse of the sugarcane industry, hails his rescue as a sign of favor from ancient Hawaiian gods―a belief that appears validated after he exhibits puzzling new abilities. But as time passes, this supposed divine favor begins to drive the family apart: Nainoa, working now as a paramedic on the streets of Portland, struggles to fathom the full measure of his expanding abilities; further north in Washington, his older brother Dean hurtles into the world of elite college athletics, obsessed with wealth and fame; while in California, risk-obsessed younger sister Kaui navigates an unforgiving academic workload in an attempt to forge her independence from the family’s legacy.
When supernatural events revisit the Flores family in Hawai’i―with tragic consequences―they are all forced to reckon with the bonds of family, the meaning of heritage, and the cost of survival.” – Amazon’s summary
This one is a little different from the rest of the ones on my Books by State list because it doesn’t take place solely in Hawaii, however Hawaii is always in the characters’ hearts – or at least the back of their minds – at all times, even if they were running from it. According to his mother, Noa was supposedly blessed by the Hawaiian gods. Dean felt the power of his ancestors when he would play basketball. Kaui has a deep connection to Hula and the women of Hawaii, and her engineering skills end up being the most beneficial in the end.
Noa at first seems, to his parents, like a regular child with a few strange quirks. Animals are drawn to him – soothed by his presence. He learns exceptionally fast. Then, he falls into the ocean during a boat ride. Sharks begin to swarm which only makes the family panic more, until a shark delivers Noa safely back to the boat his family is on. After this incident, Noa becomes the “miracle child.” His parents are laser focused on him, leaving his brother and sister feeling ignored and resentful. When Noa starts exhibiting healing powers, he brings in much needed money to the family – elevating his status even more in his parents’ eyes.
However, as the years pass, Noa becomes more and more doubtful and resentful of the pressure put on him. Throughout all of it, his brother and sister both try their hardest to make a name for themselves, to get out from behind Noa’s shadow. His alienation of them and the love they feel is lacking from their parents make them resentful of him and their parents both. They run from his legendary status and flinch away from any mention of him when speaking with their parents. The siblings hardly speak to each other once they are spread out across the country, so they don’t realize when Noa starts a downward spiral – or they just assume he’s still trying to make everything about him and continue to diminish them.
When tragedy strikes, they all ruminate on the past and realize all the things they should have done differently. The biggest issue between the whole family was lack of communication. I wanted to scream at all of them to just TALK to each other, but they were all the type of people who kept everything to themselves. They slowly open up to each other after the tragedy and find their own magic in themselves and in their homeland.
This is a very intimate story. It is told in conversational tones and go into the deepest parts of each characters’ lives. It also forces you to acknowledge the other side of Hawaii. Everyone thinks of sun, beaches, Mai Tais, dance circles, etc, but it is not just a vacation spot. The natives deal with poverty, pain, and loss same as anywhere else in the world. The beauty of the island is mixed with the harshness of modern life and presented naked and screaming for you to read. Overall, I found it to be an extremely powerful novel that has the potential to give many, many people a new perspective on life.