Moving to Hawaii and enrolling at prestigious Punahou midyear, Lea feels isolated and, despite her island roots, uncertain where she fits in the complex cultural mosaic; everything changes when her mother, Ali, accepts Eddie and Melanie West’s offer of their guesthouse in upscale Kahala.
Lea misses easygoing, windward Oahu, where her longtime summertime friend, Danny, Punahou senior and, like her, part-Hawaiian, lives, but it’s hard to argue with free housing—school fees eat a big chunk of her mother’s TV-acting income. As her friendship evolves with the Wests’ kids, Will and Whitney, also at Punahou, Lea benefits from Whitney’s status at school, but she’s unsettled by Whitney’s rapport with Danny—and unbalanced by her own attraction to Will, who has a girlfriend. Eddie, Ali’s old flame, takes a perplexing interest in Lea, while Melanie makes adroit social use of Ali’s celebrity, dragging her to parties and wangling access to her co-stars. As in The Descendants (2007), Hemmings turns her plot on intergenerational family complexities and contradictions, secrets and revelations. Appealing and volatile, Lea’s a quintessential teen, by turns hypersensitive and hypercritical, impulsive and cautious, insightful and clueless. Hawaii, Hemmings’ closely observed home turf, is more than interesting wallpaper; details of island life (including tensions among natives and newcomers, locals and vacationers) resonate with theme and plot.
Wryly funny, generous-hearted, garnished with sun, surfing, and shave ice—a genuinely literary beach read. (Fiction. 14 & up)