“And I want my people to know. They should continue to work for justice, but with aloha. It’s our essence, like a fragrance is to a flower. Aloha is our spirit, it’s who we are. If we don’t have that, we’re lost, and there is no more Hawaii.”
San Francisco late 1880’s – Laura Jennings has her whole life in front of her – but tragedy strikes when her father and fiancé are killed in a carriage accident. Laura had hoped to go to medical school, but left alone and with little money she must join her Aunt in Hawaii. Laura finds her *missionary* family quite well to do, although her aunt is bed-ridden and her domineering husband Stephen (who lusts after Laura despite his strong religious views) happily puts Laura to *work* teaching her young cousins. Laura meets and charms members of the Hawaiian royal family and is eventually offered a post as governess to young Princess Ka’iulani, and that post eventually leads to another as assistant and lady in waiting to Queen Lili’uokalani. The queen is eventually beset by plots among the Americans Europeans wanting to either control or destroy the monarchy and annex Hawaii to the United States.
And that is the basic run down of the book, although there’s a lot more to it – Laura’s father had a secret from his past in Hawaii he took to his grave and two men who love her (one white and prosperous, and David who is hapa haole, half white/half Hawaiian). This book was an entrant in Amazon’s Breakthrough Novel Award (ABNA) contest in 2008 and I never realized it had been published until I heard the author mention it on a discussion board. I found six copies in the library’s catalog with fifteen other people in line ahead of me (always a good sign) and I (im)patiently waited for my turn. I enjoyed this book a lot and learned quite a lot more than what this former resident of Hawaii was taught back in grade school.
That said, as much as I did like this book and had a hard time putting it down it’s not without a few quibbles. While Laura is the main character, she’s a more passive character and doesn’t quite come to life – she’s more of a conduit the author uses to advance the story of the royal family. Not a bad thing, but just not what I expected. I really got a good flavor of the Hawaiian culture from this book (I’ll pass on the poi though), and enjoyed the healthy sprinkling of Hawaiian words in the text – although readers not familiar with them would have appreciated a vocabulary and pronunciation guide. A genealogical chart of the Hawaiian royal family would have been much helpful, as well as a list of the other main players in the plot to overthrow the existing government, I lost track of who was who on occasion and a refresher at the end of a long day would have come in handy.
Those quibbles aside, if you’re interested in this period in Hawaii’s history this is definitely a book to consider adding to your shelf – this history geek loved it. If you’re looking for Laura’s story, star-crossed lovers, and true love in the end kind of stuff this is probably not the book for you. 4/5 stars.