Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Review: Strange Relations by Sonia Levitin

Let me begin by saying that I didn't finish this particular young adult novel.  I learned this evening that setting matters more than I could have imagined.

Synopsis in Brief:  A young girl flies to Hawaii (Oahu) to stay with her religious aunt and her large family.  While there she falls for a surfer, and learns more about faith and family.  (See Goodreads synopsis of Strange Relations for more information.)

Review:  I actually picked this book up at our local library here in Kahuku.  The book was standing along the top of the bookcase holding the YA fiction, and not with the Hawaiiana fiction, which should have been a big clue to me.  Neither here nor there at this point, I picked up the book and thought that I'd read a YA book set in Hawaii for the fun of it.  In an effort to clear out the last of the books I checked out here for the summer, I started reading this quick-paced novel this evening, but quickly realized it was nothing like I thought.

Although the novel is not necessarily claiming to be representing anything Hawaiian (which it doesn't), it was a little deceptive.  The inside cover says that the story is set, "against Oahu's lush backdrop."  That's really about it, and that's about all I saw.  In brief, it is a story that uses the Hawaii of a screensaver or Hollywood movie, and uses that as the setting.  That's totally fine!  Honest. I just had to pull myself back from my initial reaction of offense.  I will admit that the Hawaii that I know, is not really Waikiki centered.  The Hawaii I know has more to it than beautiful scenery and breathtaking sunsets; there is a culture that permeates and moves everything on the islands.  It was the energy and the life-style of Hawaii that was missing, and I had to resign myself to the island being a "backdrop" and nothing more.  Once again, that's fine, but one has to be ready to know that.

Lest I make this book sound shallow, I have to back up and say that there seemed to be a great message about reconnecting with the young protagonist's Jewish heritage that she had lost.  There also was a story of grief and loss that drove her to Hawaii to heal that was building steadily.  Overall, it is a book that had a message and story to deliver, and the setting was merely meant to charm the reader along the way.  If you're interested, check it out.  In any other circumstance, not bewitched by Hawaii in a pretty personal way, I would have read the novel in a very different way.

Have you ever read a novel that was set somewhere you loved?  What happened if they didn't capture it for you?


  1. I feel your pain! I have this trouble as well....only it's with books that are set in my part of Ohio/Kentucky. I think that is why I had such trouble with Halfway to the Grave and Nice Girls Don't Have Fangs. The stereotypes of Ohioians/Kentuckians annoyed the crap out of me, and they kept putting "hollars" in places where there aren't any.

  2. Oh...poor you! So sorry that it didn't live up to your initial expectations....it's hard to break out of what one expects versus the black and white truth. I can't say that I've run across a novel that has affected me that way...but here's hoping your next read is THAT much better. ^_^

  3. Buckeye Girl--Stereotypes are the worst! My family is all from Ohio, so I get what you mean.

    GMR--Thanks. I hope so too! I'm sure it had a great message, and wasn't a bad book, but just didn't hit me as something I wanted to finish. *sigh*

  4. I saw this book before, and may have even tweeted somebody's review about it, but I figured it'd be exactly as you described.

    Misty and I often wonder about the lack of good (or just lack of) YA fiction in Hawaii. I do think Graham Salisbury does a great job of writing accessible work while maintaining that local authenticity.

  5. Wait, she goes to Hawaii to reconnect with her Jewish heritage? Mkay.

    I avoid books set in places I lived--which is actually pretty easy, because I've yet to see a book set here! Problem: solved.

  6. I think it is often more difficult to read about books that claim things about places you have lived yourself. I so often find fault with books that try to write about Dutch people or the country.

  7. A. Alba--I'll check out Salisbury. Thanks for the recommendation! I really was pretty sad about the casual use of Hawaii in this book.

    Heidenkind--Yea, it was interesting. Hey, wasn't that book Cubicle Next Door written near where you live? Give it a try and see if it ticks you off! :) LOL.

    Iris--Yes, so true. I think we just don't like places and people we love to be trivialized into simple terms, when we know they're more complicated.