Some books are easy to read, easy to set aside, and forgotten as soon as the next book comes along. But some books will haunt you. Memorable characters invade your dreams, and weeks later, you will find yourself still turning over plot twists in your mind. School for Hawaiian Girls is like that.
In alternating chapters, the book deals with the brutal 1922 murder of a young Hawaiian schoolgirl, Lydia Kaluhi, and her grandniece Moani’s 1985 attempt to purchase the abandoned school facility where the killing took place to convert it into a luxury hotel.
After years as a successful kayak guide, paddling rich tourists through Hawaii’s breathtaking wilderness, Moani is starting to feel her age. The hotel idea seems like a perfect opportunity to build a calmer, more stable life for herself and her
mentally retarded sister, Puanani, who lives with her. The property is expensive, though, and needs extensive renovations. Moani approaches her wealthy, autocratic uncle Sam Kaluhi for financial help.
Following the murder, Lydia’s family (including Sam and his remaining sister
Bernie Moani’s grandmother) enter an unspoken pact to forget all about the situation. They don’t talk about Lydia, and they don’t attempt to contact the child she left behind. She had been the favorite, the beauty, so full of promise, but it becomes as if she never existed. Then Moani announces her hotel plans, and in the ensuing debate, they mention Lydia to her.
Moani, childless and an orphan, is stunned to learn that she may have more family. She begins investigating, trying to learn what happened and where Lydia’s child might be. Her dictatorial uncle warns her to drop it, but even though she needs his help to pull off her hotel plan, she continues searching, and eventually finds her cousin.
Easily the most compelling character in the book, Sam is alternately very good and very bad. He has supported his family since he was just a teenager. With a combination of pluck and brawn, he made himself a fortune. He sent Moani to the best schools, helped her establish her business, and even gives her a check for half a million dollars to start her hotel. However, he mistreats his wives (having had six) and Puanani, and is absolutely ruthless with anyone who dares cross him – including, finally, Moani.
The story is full of surprises. The identity of the murderer, the reasons for Bernie and Sam’s silence, and the real secret behind Sam’s financial success will keep the reader eagerly turning the pages, wanting to learn more. This is the author’s first novel, and it shows a great deal of promise. The problem is that too many questions are left unanswered.
These questions are what will keep you thinking about this book long after it is finished, wondering what exactly happened. Although this uncertainty allows a lot of free play for the imagination, many readers will find it frustrating. When does the sequel come out?
© 2002 by
April J. Chase for Curled Up With a Good Book