The posting assignment from Boss Lady, also known as my BFF Rey, was pushed to the wayside a wee while back, but she was quick to remind me yesterday that we—she and I—hadn’t yet posted about our favorite Hawaiian author or Hawaiian-themed story. In case you’re not familiar with us (the P.I.s from the Triple Threat Investigation Agency), I’m Linda. Unlike Rey, I do read—huh? Oh, sorry Sunshine.
I decided to go with Matthew Kaopio’s Written in the Sky, penned about a decade ago. It’s a gritty, intense tale—YA, interestingly enough—that revolves around young Ikauikalani, or ‘Ikau, a fourteen-year-old who resides among the Ala Moana Park homeless. He does have a “family”, one created over time, but he’s basically on his own. And life far from safe—he encounters unsavory sorts, like a creepy fellow who offers him drugs and propositions and ghastly gang members who taunt and threaten.
The homeless hold a place in my heart and soul, and this book struck a chord with me. The story is a solid, if not eye-opening read. And it’s not for the weak-hearted; living on the streets can be dangerous, and violent.
“How would you like to be branded like cattle?” the leader whispered. “It only hurts for a short time, then you don’t fell a thing.” The boy trembled as the bright-orange cherry came close to his eyelashes. “What, fag, you scared?” With a burst of energy, the boy let out a long, high-pitched scream. He stepped down hard on someone’s foot and managed to break free. Swinging his bag again, he smacked the gang leader in the eye, knocking the cigarette out of his hand. “Assholes!” the boy yelled. He ran toward the snack bar, loud jeer sounding behind him. “We’re not pau with you, faggot!” the leader called after him. “We’ll be back, you’ll see!” The gang hooted and howled as the boy, exhausted, slumped behind a sea-grape tree, wishing with all of his heavy heart for his grandmother to come back and make this nightmare go away.
We learn how this young teen lives—survives—but also [happily] discover there are kind-hearted people to be found. It’s not hard to envision him people-watching, interacting (with wariness), swimming in the brilliant-blue Pacific, pawing through garbage for food and castoffs, searching for money, and standing his ground, regardless of fear.
What makes him different from countless other ill-starred kids? ‘Ikau can view the future via clouds. Upon hearing from his dead grandmother in a dream to locate Mariah Wong (a name he’s not familiar with), ‘Ikau begins a journey to find himself, as well as use his gifts. As he undertakes this odyssey with an owl spirit guide, he learns about Hawaiian culture and traditions, as well as his family’s history.
For those of you unfamiliar with Matthew Kaopio, he became a mouth-brush artist and writer while undergoing rehabilitation for a severe spinal injury that occurred while swimming; it left him a quadriplegic. His first book was Hawaiian Family Legends. I’ve not yet checked it out, but I understand it “combines ancient Hawaiian oral storytelling with modern-day painting”. Written in the Sky, interestingly enough, incorporates Kaopio’s own experiences in Ala Moana Park during the rehabilitation process and is also based on a 2004 Master’s thesis in Pacific Island Studies.
One last fascinating fact: he was also a skilled chanter.
“Chanting and poetry are ways of harnessing the spiritual and magical power of the spoken word.”
Sadly, this talented man is no longer among us, but his wonderful works carry on.