Welcome to the American Tour’s final destination! For our last article in this series, we’ll be exploring the literary landscape of Hawaii. Unfortunately, Native voices are vastly underrepresented in most mediums, including the book world. However, we here at Bookstr have brought you a short list of must-read books written by Native Hawaiians.
If you’d like to check out the previous American Tour article, which features a few Native Alaskan authors, click here.
1. Shark Dialogues by Kiana Davenport
This novel begins in the 19th century and tells the story of a sailor from mainland America who meets the estranged daughter of a Hawaiian chief. The story spans the history of Hawaii over the course of a century and focuses on Pono, a matriarch and seer, and her four granddaughters who are conflicted with their heritage and identities. As we learn more about this biracial family, ancient myths and legends of Hawaii are woven into the lives of these powerful women.
Author Kiana Davenport has Native Hawaiian ancestry and was born and raised in Kalihi, Hawaii. She currently inhabits both Boston and Hawaii. Her most notable novels are this one, Song of the Exile, and The Spy Lover, which is based on Davenport’s family history. The Spy Lover is about a Chinese immigrant named Johnny Tom who becomes a soldier in the American Civil War.
2. Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls by T. Kira Madden
This is a memoir about author T. Kira Madden growing up in Boca Raton, Florida as biracial and queer in an area that wasn’t very accepting of her identities. Madden had wealthy parents, attended a prestigious private school, and earned numerous equestrian accolades.
However, Madden’s life wasn’t all that it seemed on the polished surface. She was an only child with parents who were continuously battling addiction, and she persevered through these dark times with the support of friends who also didn’t have fathers. Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls spans Hawaii from the 1960s up to the present-day struggles of a woman coping with loss.
3. Nuclear Family by Joseph Han
Han’s novel takes place in Hawaii in 2018 just before a false alarm announced the launch of a nuclear missile. Nuclear Family is about a Korean family who owns a restaurant, and after Guy Fieri visits, Mr. and Mrs. Cho think that their restaurant will finally be a commercial success.
But then the Cho family hears that their son Jacob, who is teaching English in South Korea, has tried to cross the border into North Korea. The story takes on a fantastical and disturbing tone when Jacob’s grandfather possesses Jacob’s body, which is thousands of miles away so that the Cho family can recover their lost relatives in North Korea.
Author Joseph Han was born in Korea but grew up in Honolulu, Hawaii. He received his doctorate in English and Creative Writing at the University of Hawaii at Mānoa, and Han currently teaches writing at the graduate level at Antioch University Los Angeles. Han is also an editor at Joyland Magazine, and he’s working on a story collection and second novel.
4. This is Paradise by Kristiana Kahakauwila
This is Paradise is a collection of short stories set in modern Hawaii that pairs the beautiful with the brutal. The title story is narrated by a chorus of Waikiki women. A young tourist goes to Hawaii and becomes obsessed with the more sinister side of Hawaiian nightlife.
Another story is titled “Wanle,” which is about a fierce young woman whose father has passed away and now aspires to be a cockfighter like he was. “The Old Paniolo Way” is about the dying patriarch of a family who is trying to define his legacy and navigate his inheritance. What brings these various, seemingly unrelated stories together is the shared human desire to identify home.
Kristiana Kahakauwila has raised in Southern California, and she has Native Hawaiian, German, and Norwegian ancestry. Kahakauwila went to Princeton for her undergraduate degree and University of Michigan for her MFA in Creative Writing. Currently, she’s a teacher in the English Department at the University of Hawaii at Mānoa.
5. The Girl from Everywhere by Heidi Heilig
Nix has grown up on her father’s magic ship that travels through space, time, and mythological realms (as a book and history nerd, I am VERY jealous). Some of the most notable places Nix and her father visit are 1800s China, the lands from One Thousand and One Nights, and a mythical version of Africa. During their adventures, father and daughter have come across many wonderful and colorful people, including a thief whom Nix likes more than she wants to admit.
But the family isn’t just traveling without rhyme or reason. Nix’s father is searching for a specific map that will take him to 1868 Honolulu, which is where Nix’s mother is from. However, even obtaining the map, much less going back there, could erase Nix’s entire existence. The stakes are high, but Nix desperately wants to meet her mother and continue to discover magical places.
Heidi Heilig was born in Honolulu, Hawaii and raised alongside horses and peacocks. Heidi’s favorite thing to do is travel, and she’s been everywhere from a mountain range in Hawaii to the African plains. She got an MFA at New York University in Musical Theatre Writing, and now she lives in Brooklyn, New York, with her husband.
Thank you to everyone who has been on this incredible journey across the American literary landscape with Bookstr! This is our final American Tour article, but if you missed a few, click here to find more.
Be sure to check out our American Tour Bookshelf on Bookshop to browse these books and others.