Sharks in the Time of Saviors by Kawaii Strong Washburn
Published: March 3, 2020 by MCD
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Synopsis: “Sharks in the Time of Saviors is the story of a family, a people, and a legend, all wrapped in one. Faith and grief, rage and love, this book pulses with all of it. Kawai Strong Washburn makes his debut with a wealth of talent and a true artist’s eye.” –Victor LaValle, author of The Changeling
In 1995 Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, on a rare family vacation, seven-year-old Nainoa Flores falls overboard a cruise ship into the Pacific Ocean. When a shiver of sharks appears in the water, everyone fears for the worst. But instead, Noa is gingerly delivered to his mother in the jaws of a shark, marking his story as the stuff of legends.
Nainoa’s family, struggling amidst the collapse of the sugarcane industry, hails his rescue as a sign of favor from ancient Hawaiian gods–a belief that appears validated after he exhibits puzzling new abilities. But as time passes, this supposed divine favor begins to drive the family apart: Nainoa, working now as a paramedic on the streets of Portland, struggles to fathom the full measure of his expanding abilities; further north in Washington, his older brother Dean hurtles into the world of elite college athletics, obsessed with wealth and fame; while in California, risk-obsessed younger sister Kaui navigates an unforgiving academic workload in an attempt to forge her independence from the family’s legacy.
When supernatural events revisit the Flores family in Hawai’i–with tragic consequences–they are all forced to reckon with the bonds of family, the meaning of heritage, and the cost of survival.
Review: I finished this book well over a week ago and I find that I still don’t know quite what to make of it. It was fascinating, interesting, confusing, head scratching, and magical. So in the end I come to a high three star rating, probably closer to 3.5 stars.
I thought that I was going into a book about a boy who is saved by sharks and develops magical powers. And the struggle of his family and larger community to come to terms with the scope of those powers and what they mean. To an extent, this was accurate. But the book was also not about that at all. It was about Noa’s family. The struggle of his mother and father to survive the ever increasing cost of survival in Hawaii while trying to get their three kids to better themselves and their lives. The struggle of a brother and sister who feel overshadowed by their magical brother and cope with that stress in entirely different ways.
I really was drawn in to this family. I was rooting for them and cared for them deeply. I also loved the weaving in of the myths and magic of Hawaii. I could tell just how deeply the author feels connected to his Hawaiian heritage and it was beautifully done. This was a book about things that divide us and the things that mend those divides.
The only problem I had with this book is that it dragged in places. It was a heavily character driven plot but sometimes the only thing the characters seemed to want to do was complain for chapters at a time. When I got past those parts the story swept me up in its magic in an instant. But getting through some of those sections was hard. This book felt like it needed one more good pass by the editor’s scalpel to be utterly perfect.