In this coming-of-age story, Lee (Fricken Kids, 2013) tackles grief, teenage dissatisfaction, familial drama, and culture shock.
Gabriel Kane (pronounced kah-neh) Foster, 13, is desperately trying to deal with the grief and guilt caused by the death of his older sister, Makena. To make matters worse for Gabe, his parents have lost their house, and the whole family is moving from California to Hawaii, forcing Gabe to leave behind the house he grew up in and, even worse, his girlfriend, Deanna. Over it all is the shadow of Makena, never far away, because Gabriel’s mother insists on carrying her ashes around in a chunky plastic jar—and talking to them. Then there’s his extended family and the culture shock of a California teen thrust into the Hawaiian environment and culture. But it’s not all bad: his cousin U’i seems to like him, and her best friend, Napua, is one of the prettiest girls Gabe has ever seen. If he can just survive his bullying cousin Joe-Joe, abusive Uncle Nalu, aka Bob, and the family sport, paddling, Gabe might find that Hawaii isn’t far from the paradise everyone else seems to think it is. Lee does a commendable job capturing the voice of a disaffected teenage boy. Gabe’s struggles come across as authentic and true to life. Unfortunately, spending so much time in the point of view of an angst-ridden teenager has the effect of exaggerating many of the other characters to almost caricature levels, especially the adults. Gabriel’s mother reads as particularly horrible, and her abusive comments and reactions to her son are sometimes jarringly over the top. On the other hand, vibrant depictions of Hawaiian culture and language—vital to the characters’ lives—are skillfully blended into the story.
perfect, but a worthwhile glimpse into a colorful culture.