Cover of Hula by Jamin Iolani Hakes
Jasmine Iolani Hakes
Star Rating
Reviewer's Rating
Aug 1, 2023

Here at the library, we love books. We especially love books that we don't have to wait for. This is why on #NoWaitWednesdays, we spotlight a book that - at the time of this writing, anyway - is sitting on the New Release shelf at a local branch, just waiting for someone to come by and check it out. So if this book sounds like something you might be interested in, go ahead and press that hold button! You might be deeply immersed in its pages far faster than you might expect.

Many of our book group patrons LOVE a good multi-generational novel. There's something about a story where one generation goes through trials, sacrifices, and hardships in order to give an opportunity to the next generation, only to have that next generation need and want different things. While the conflicts are usually out of love, compassion, and dreams for a better world, the new tends to push back against the old, and the old resists the new, and the cycle repeats itself over and over - in life as well as literature. These stories are usually rich in cultural background and personal history, and many readers might find a bit of themselves in these stories, as we look back at our own ancestors who's dreams might (or might not) be recognizable to our modern selves.

"Hula" by Jasmine Iolani is a book that neatly fits into this category. Set in the islands of Hawai'i, the main character is Hi'i, a young woman born into the influential Napuka family - a family that has deep and ancient roots in the island of Hilo. She looks up to her mother, Laka, who was "Miss Aloha Hula" when she was young woman. To Hi'i and Laka - and the rest of the family - hula isn't an athletic dance to show off for tourists. It's much more than that. It's an expression of both cultural identity and history. As Hakes puts it herself in the novel: "Hula is written within the swirls of our feet. It's our umbilical cord, our pulse. Our battle cry, our death rattle, our moment of conception. The chants are archived in the stars. Hula is the heat rising from within our volcanoes. It is the pull of the tides, the beat of the surf against our cliffs. It is our hair, our teeth, our bones, our DNA."

Hi'i sets out to do what her mother did: earn the title of "Miss Aloha Hula." However, there's a problem: Hi'i has pale skin and red hair, unlike the rest of her family. Her mother worked at a tourist resort on another island in her youth, and came back with baby Hi'i and some secrets - secrets that go to the very heart of the islands' history. "Hula" unflinchingly explores that history, using lush and evocative language, telling a touching multigenerational coming-of-age story of mothers and daughters and graddaughters, similar to "Pachinko" by Min Jin Lee or "Memphis" by Tara Stingfellow.

"Hula" got a starred review in Publisher's Weekly and it made the list in May, meaning that librarians across the country recommended it as well. If you pick this one up, we hope you enjoy it. 

Reviewed by Gregg W.
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