27 Best Local Books to Read This Summer
Throw ’em in your beach bag or load up your nightstand: 27 must-have books from local authors and publishing houses.
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BIGGEST BOOK OF THE YEAR
Photos: Aaron Yoshino
Native Hawaiian Law: A Treatise
The biggest book of the year, in a literal sense, at least, has been sending waves of change since its 1991 first edition. Back then, it was part of a groundbreaking approach to indigenous rights, a field opened up by the judicial creativity of Supreme Court Chief Justice William Richardson. From Waiāhole to Honopū, tales tell of small farmers reading up on case law in their dog-eared copy of Native Hawaiian Law and heading to court. Original editor and contributor Melody Kapilialoha MacKenzie went on to help start the Native Hawaiian Law program at the William S. Richardson School of Law, while continuing to expand the book’s scope. With Maui’s water rights on the docket since A&B announced the end of sugar cane cultivation, you can bet this new edition, which clocks in at more than 1,400 pages, will see hard use. Other readers will eye the terra incognita of Indigenous Cultural Property as an area of future assertion of sovereignty.
Native Hawaiian Law: A Treatise, by Melody Kapilialoha MacKenzie, editor, with Susan K. Serrano and D. Kapua‘ala Sproat, Kamehameha Publishing, August 2015, 1,404 pages
NEVER GETS OLD: THREE YOUNG ADULT NOVELS THAT PACK A PUNCH
Readers have come to expect visions and miracles in their books since the arrival of magic realism and the success of that boy wizard and those plucky hobbits. But here’s a real miracle for you: a smart, swift, psychologically canny novel that conveys actual indigenous knowledge in everyday life. That’s what Kimo Armitage gives us in this tale of two contemporary Native Hawaiian children, Pua and Keola, who become healers. Light on its feet, the story dances in short time shifts from creation myth to small-kid days on O‘ahu’s east shore. With a blessed lack of lecturing or heavy political underlining, we plunge into a natural world of dazzling, closely observed beauty: our Hawai‘i nei. And we swim into the family and interpersonal conflicts that divide and wound us, as Pua and Keola find their way as children and vessels of healing, dealing with teenage love and challenged by a fellow channeler from Tahiti, Tiki, whose dark spirit stems from childhood abandonment and lack of adult guidance. The language is spare and exact, reflecting Armitage’s track record (more than 20 books, most for children and young adults); an assistant professor of Hawaiian and indigenous literature at UH Mānoa, he keeps his mastery of the spirit of cultural practice hidden backstage, letting his exuberant yet delicate prose and storytelling do the work. Not to be missed.
Photo: Courtesy of Kimo Armitage
The Healers, by Kimo Armitage, University of Hawai‘i Press, February 2016, 198 pages
The author of The Descendants returns to Hawai‘i and, spiritually if not literally, picks up the story of lives and friendships tested and torn by divisions of class, cool, localness, ethnicity and, what’s that other thing? Oh, yeah: money. Smartly choosing for a protagonist a high school girl, Lea, uprooted from California by her Hawai‘i-raised actress mother and plopped down in Punahou, Kaui Hart Hemmings next ups the ante by having Mom’s star-struck, rich friend Melanie offer the proudly self-sufficient mother-daughter team their own cottage on her Kāhala estate. The reader may be forgiven any “Warning! Reality Television!” flashes, because that is exactly what the author is after here—in an achy-breaky-heart, Disney-afterschool-special kind of way. Melanie’s daughter Whitney is Punahou’s “it” girl, her son Will a dreamboat, who’s got the golden arrogance of a true romantic lead. One is Lea’s friend, the other her crush, and don’t think it’s only the rich kids who break bonds of trust or chase status. We all do: Sometimes Hawai‘i really is like high school and, in Juniors, Hemmings really nails the soft-tissue damage, if you read between the lines.
Juniors, by Kaui Hart Hemmings, Putnam, September 2015, 320 pages
The Girl From Everywhere
Raising sail and setting a course across the seven seas and time itself, young Nix is the indispensable navigator to her grief-stricken father Slate’s dangerous obsession—to return in time to 1868 Honolulu and undo his beloved wife’s death during childbirth. The one map that can get them back on their square-rigged time machine, with Nix’s help, is an antique on the auction block at Christie’s in New York City in 2016—but, if Nix succeeds, her father will undo her own conception and, thus, existence. The existential dilemma that drives the plot of this nationally acclaimed novel, by a Punahou grad who now lives in Brooklyn, invokes Salman Rushdie, David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas and Scheherazade, the greatest girl storyteller of them all. Far from being weighed down by its antecedents, the story literally bounces with wit, angst and Y.A. snark, as Nix tries to win over her brooding, callous father and learns to rely on, and finally to love, the charming, feckless thief Kash. Adventures over time in India, Brooklyn, Hawai‘i and China lead the space pirates to a showdown during the violent intrigues surrounding the Bayonet Constitution—because it was in an opium den under the streets of Honolulu that Nix’s mother died giving her life.
The Girl From Everywhere, by Heidi Heilig, Greenwillow (HarperCollins), February 2016, 454 pages
ARTFUL, HEART-FILLED POEMS
Tinfish Press Chapbooks
The pleasure of a chapbook is more than its portability and promise of a distilled reading experience; as Susan Schultz’s Tinfish Press shows in this series, designed by Jeff Sanner, joy leaps off the page in a marriage of art, design and poetry. How do they do it? “I find the words for our chapbooks and books,” says Schultz; which means experimental poetry from across the Pacific. “Then I send them to our designer. For these chapbooks, and for most of our work, the idea is that the designer is the privileged first reader and interpreter of the text. I have no input on design myself. I just sit back and marvel. It’s like Christmas when these books and chapbooks come out.” To order: tinfishpress.com.
Awkward Hugger, by Timothy Dyke; Lichen Loves Stone, by Jen Crawford; Orphan, by Joseph Han; A Winged Horse in a Plane, by Salah Faik; Tinfish Press, 2015, unpaginated
FORCE OF NATURE
Rare is the shaman who can ride the tiger of economic forces as well as Walter Dods Jr., former chairman of First Hawaiian Bank. Beginning as a self-described “Pordagee hot-rodder,” Dods rises through alliances and creativity in a sleepy Hawai‘i goosed by the arrival of outside capital, particularly Japan’s. The book details the tight relationships, booms and busts and the perils of crony capitalism: the Mānoa Finance savings and loan disaster (cozy ties between legislators and bankers), First Hawaiian’s near collapse due to entering Japan’s yakuza-dominated consumer loan market (a no-questions leadership style by mentor John Bellinger) and the banker who would’ve let his elderly Japanese investors lose their savings rather than allow a bailout. (He was only persuaded when Dods threatened to lift his Wai‘alae Country Club membership.) A colorful audit of our top-tier tranche. Note: The book is subsidized by Dods; net proceeds go to Aloha United Way.
Yes!, by Walter Dods Jr., Legacy Isle Publishing, December, 2015, 256 pages
The Last Volcano
It sounds like a creation myth: A man breaks up with his first wife over a volcano. Setting himself up at the edge of a bleak and fire-blasted crater, he then finds a second love willing to live with him atop Kīlauea. And while her name is Isabel Maydwell, not Pele, the mythic tale explains Thomas Jaggar, whom most of us vaguely know from Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park and its Jaggar Museum and overlook. In the hands of John Dvorak, however, we get the dirt—and grit—of a man who pursued volcanic eruptions all over the globe, from Italy to Alaska, before settling in Hawai‘i. A U.S. Geological Survey volcano and earthquake specialist who himself lives on Kīlauea, Dvorak doesn’t turn Jaggar into a god of science. In this frank and unvarnished account, we see a man who was a fortune-hunter, wooing women who could support his first love. Sparks fly in more ways than one, and this fascinating, readable book is all the better for it.
The Last Volcano, by John Dvorak, Pegasus Books, December 2015, 309 pages