Battered and scared, Adam “Makani” Frost escapes his abusive boyfriend, Jeff Thatcher, and returns to Maui where he grew up. There, he reconnects with his aging Auntie and a cousin. He also meets Calder Wright, gym teacher and all around nice guy. Adam does his best to scrape together some normalcy in his life, but it isn’t easy. For one thing, the hotel Auntie runs has stiff competition from the designer hotels in the area and she owes thousands of dollars in taxes. For another, Adam’s father, who ripped his family out of Maui only to abandon them in Georgia, is back on Maui and trying to buy Auntie’s hotel. All of this, plus Adam is still hyper aware that his ex boyfriend may be monitoring Adam’s cell phone and social media for clues to find Adam and finish the job.
Things aren’t all bad on Maui, however. Simply returning to his childhood home offers Adam some comfort. So does finding a paying job relatively quickly. But what helps the most is meeting Calder at a local government meeting. The two hit it off and start to get close. When a huge hurricane strikes Maui, Calder helps Adam weather the storm—no mean feat considering Adam is convinced he sees Jeff. Once the storm clears out, Adam’s fears are confirmed. Records show that Jeff was indeed at the same shelter as Adam. Suddenly, the sanctuary of Maui feels a lot less comforting to Adam. The police get involved, but with Jeff able to evade them at every turn, Adam fears for his life…and for Calder’s.
It almost goes without saying, but trigger warnings for domestic abuse apply for this book. There are frank references to the physical abuse and descriptions of the resultant injuries mentioned on page, but I felt like there was an even stronger undercurrent of allusions/direct references to the emotional abuse Jeff subjected Adam to as well. Castiglione clearly explains his approach to this issue in the front matter and I would suggest readers take the time to review before jumping in just in case.
I found this story to be something of a mixed bag. I have spent some time in Hawaii myself and enjoyed the nods to local culture, like taking your shoes off at the door, and local terms. There are also a few Hawaiian legends to help develop the plot and add a pretty strong paranormal aspect to the story. Altogether, these references that reflected at least some of my lived experiences in Hawaii helped me start the book with a positive outlook. I thought the way the Hawaiian legends got worked into the text helped me appreciate them in their own right, and helped me accept them as part and parcel of the world. One of them was the Night Marchers, who made at least two appearances, and the other was Princess Popoalaea, who also makes a few appearances. The former seem like chaotic evil characters, whereas the Princess was good. And Auntie, apparently full-blooded Hawaiian born and raised, seemed to be a believer in the lore and helped Adam (who is “happa,” basically biracial) appreciate the visions of both the Night Marchers and Princess Popoalaea as true experiences, not figments of an overtaxed mind.
The longer I read, however, the more I felt like Adam had a pretty big chip on his shoulder about tourists who come to the island. These tourist characters are invariably portrayed as completely borish and/or culturally insensitive to the point of caricature. I didn’t understand why there needed to be such focus on the complex (or at least viciously capitalistic) relationship Hawaii has with tourists when the book is so rich with Adam’s personal drama—I mean, there is a murderous boyfriend committing felonies for the sake of getting revenge. I hardly thought the plot demanded Adam be shown to suffer further through interactions with horrible hotel guests or evacuated tourists.
I also found some characters’ reactions to Jeff incomprehensible. For example, Adam receives photos from Jeff that clearly threaten the safety of Adam and those close to him. Without reporting these photos to anyone, Adam and Calder immediately decide to take shelter at an unmanned (or closed for the season?) observatory that is located pretty remotely and some ten thousand feet up the side of a volcano. I sort of understood why Adam didn’t initially press charges against Jeff. He wanted to avoid facing Jeff in court and testifying. But when law enforcement tells him none of that would be necessary to get Jeff (likely) thrown in jail, not to mention the entire island is on alert looking for an armed and dangerous man, Adam still refuses because “it feels wrong to leave Maui.”
From a style perspective, there were some mechanical errors in the manuscript. Many of them were simple typos or editing misses. However, there were some interesting continuity issues. Adam’s age, for example, could be 23 because he mentions some eighteen-year olds and says they’re like he was five years ago. But he could also be 27, because we know he was still living on Maui at age 7 and, later, he says he had spent the last two decades dreaming of returning to Maui. So—not sure which is accurate. And a significant one for me happened after The Big Scene. Readers are left with the knowledge that Adam is, for all intents and purposes, completely alone in a remote location with no means of contacting the outside world and very much wounded. Turn the page and we’re in the aftermath of The Big Scene, well removed from the immediacy. I think what stuck in my craw with this jump tactic wasn’t that the author completely fails to address how Adam managed to get out of that hopeless situation, but that there was an egregious use of a “did so-and-so live or die” cliche.
On the whole, I thought the book started off well enough. If nothing else, it’s a story of redemption that highlights not only Adam’s strength, but his Hawaiian roots. Personally, I thought Adam’s (granted, understandable and not necessarily undeserved in the real world) spitefulness towards tourists was a distraction that wasn’t needed. The reactionary behavior towards Jeff was sort of understandable, like Adam was controlling what he could control, but also seemed like it was constantly The Worst Choice available. If you like stories that include some mythology or are interested in depictions of what survival of domestic abuse can look like, you may enjoy this story. The Adam/Calder romance is also a sweet, low-heat get together as well.