Sharks in the Time of Saviours by Kawai Strong Washburn

Sharks in the Time of Saviours is the story of a family, a miraculous son, and life in modern Hawaii. When Nainoa is seven, he is saved from drowning by sharks, and his parents see this as a sign things are looking up for them. But things aren’t simple for Nainoa, and for his siblings Dean and Kaui who both feel like he has a special place in their parents’ affections. Each of them travels to mainland USA looking for something, but things don’t work out as their parents hope.

It is difficult to know what to expect from this novel, which starts with a kind of mystical atmosphere as Nainoa is saved and becomes a kind of myth, but also looks at the struggles of economic downturn, and later the tarnished American dream. The magical elements, though vital to the narrative and the blended atmosphere of myth and harsh reality, are much less prevalent than you might assume, which works well with the different characters’ senses of the myth elements of the book. Though Nainoa’s narrative is the more unusual, it is through Dean and Kaui that you get a real sense of the novel’s power as their connections to Hawaii and their family become complicated and change, and the dreams or goals they once had become untenable.

This is a novel for people who like stories that combine sadness and harsh circumstances with interesting explorations of place, myth, and people. For many readers it’ll give new ways to think about Hawaii and how people might interact with it as a home and what they might seek in mainland USA.