Saturday, April 5, 2014

The Descendants by Kaui Hart Hemmings

Matt King’s fortunes have taken a turn lately.  His ancestor, Edward King, married a Hawaiian princess, leaving him a descendant of Hawaiian royalty and one of the largest landowners in the state. In the midst of a business deal with his many cousins to sell the family land and make a fortune, his life looks charmed from the outside. But his fun loving (if not high maintenance) wife Joanie is in a coma from a boat racing accident, and Matt has just found out that doctors must honor her living will and remove treatment.

Suddenly Matt is thrust into the role of primary caregiver to his two young daughters: Scottie, ten years old and beginning to act out for the sake of the attention; and 17 year old Alex, intelligent but willful who has been sent away to boarding school in an effort to end her burgeoning drug use and risky behavior.

As Matt struggles to learn to be a father after years of detached complacency, he is dealt another hard truth by daughter Alex: she caught Joanie with another man. Now Matt is forced to reexamine his life, his marriage, and his responsibility to his wife to make sure everyone she loved (even this mystery man) is able to say goodbye before she dies.

I highly recommend this book.  I found it very powerful in its own quiet way. The characters were authentic and bold – Hemmings didn’t sugar coat some of the more difficult aspects of raising teenage girls and dealing with a rocky marriage. Your heart breaks for Matt, Alex, and Scottie, and often you want to hug them and shake them in equal measure. The emotion is real, and the story is really beautifully narrated by Matt’s inner monologue. The lush, paradise setting of Hawaii provides a good juxtaposition to the emotional difficulties and struggles that the King family deals with as they learn to depend on each other again.

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