Fernandez’s (Rainbows Over Kapa’a, 2009) autobiographical account of his childhood on a Hawaiian island, from the 1930s to the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Young Bobby, born during the Great Depression, lives on Kaua’i, a Hawaiian island seemingly isolated from the rest of the world. Its multiracial community has its own shared language, and poor families share most of their goods with one another. The Kaua’i people, with a large Japanese population, have no reason to believe that they’ll be affected by the nearby war—until December 7, 1941. The author splits his novel into two parts: Part 1, “Peace,” provides historical descriptions of sugar plantations, pineapple canneries and different island cultures, but the moments when Bobby is simply being a kid are the most memorable. He tries surfing by using an ironing board; makes his own kite using poi, a gooey food made from the taro plant, as a paste; and goes in search of Santa Claus, believing that he resides at a nearby mountain. Not surprisingly, most of Bobby’s activities involve water, and the author gives marine life glorious coverage; the boy tries his hand at spearfishing, sees a turtle so big that it looks within reach when it’s nowhere close, and does his best to avoid sharks and eels. Part 2, “War,” mostly deals with Pearl Harbor and its aftermath—including the widespread fear among Americans that Japanese-Americans in Hawaii and the United States would betray their country. The stories of overt racism have a personal connection, since Bobby has Japanese relatives and friends, but since his Portuguese/Hawaiian family is less directly involved, the book’s second half isn’t quite as profound as the first. But Fernandez depicts engaging tales of innocence and worldly wisdom. For example, when Bobby’s father opens the Roxy Theater, Bobby revels in the fantastical realm of movies, but he also sees his first world news and becomes invested in events in other countries. At one point, he keeps a BB gun under his bed for fear of the Japanese capturing him and even takes a gas mask to school.
A fresh take on 1930s and ’40s Hawaii, with a story of childhood that will likely resonate with readers of any culture or era.