Chicago native Rochelle DuFortier likes to imagine the future, her world a series of picture postcards so vivid they sometimes seem real. When a foolish mistake at thirteen causes her mother’s death, she’s sent to a secluded Hawaiian valley, an outsider “haole-girl” among pidgin-speaking boys who hurl flaming papala spears under the full moon to summon her mother’s spirit.
After boarding school and a prestigious university back east, the ambitious young woman is torn between chasing new career opportunities, discovering her mother’s heritage in a remote French village, and meeting obligations pulling her back to Hawaii. On this island steeped in ancient mythology and modern superstition, Rochelle tests the possibility of sharing pieces of her life with those whose beliefs she barely understands and never intends to embrace.
She dives the depths of a pristine coral lagoon, conceals bodies in a subterranean lava tube, and challenges the eruptions of a living volcano, even as she deciphers the truth about her mother’s death and struggles to satisfy new debts born of old betrayals.
Papala Skies is the story of a young woman who makes all the right choices, only to find herself living an unexpected life. It is about the need to belong, and seeking one’s own version of truth amid such differing cultures’ responses to wrenching loss and abiding grief. It is about yearning for a sense of place, yet having to confront new ways to honor the love of family and friends.
Will Rochelle lose what matters most, or might she learn what the smart octopus already knows?
This is the only novel so far that I’ve written entirely from a female point of view. In her early twenties for most of the book, Rochelle has a back-story that covers her teen years in early alternating chapters, starting at age thirteen when tragedy leaves her traumatized and mired in guilt. Rochelle’s odyssey looks at how even the best-laid plans tend to lead to lives very different than we expect or intend.
Skies thinks about how each of us has his own sense of place, of belonging somewhere. I was always intrigued by transplants among my kinfolk who spent most of their lives someplace far from where they considered “home,” yet never really accepted that home for them had changed. Skies also examines what we consider to be family, with some interesting notions embodied in the Hawaiian concept of ohana. Rochelle has some very definite ideas of her own, but if those somehow start to change by the end of the story, I wonder how we all might consider our views in different light.
Readers get to spend a few hours or days with characters, while authors spend as much as a year or more with them. Just as real family members can be aggravating, these people who would hurl flaming papala spears into the night sky frustrated me more than a few times, but to this day they still reward me for all the time I spent telling their story.
* * * * * Five-star Review by Author Marcha Fox
I’ve always wanted to visit Hawaii and I must say this book was like having a personalized grand tour. The descriptions were vivid and conjured up outstanding imagery that virtually took you there, the prose as refreshing as a frozen pina colada on a hot afternoon. Don’t let the somewhat enigmatic title and cover fool you. This story was beautifully rendered as implied, but it comprises far more than lush tropical, scenery.
This complex and compelling story is as unique as its setting. While it has numerous elements of a coming of age story and dealing with tragedy, it went much deeper and at times much darker. The main character, Rochelle, has a troubling secret which she’s carried since she was thirteen when her mother died. She blames herself for her mother’s death, something children are prone to do whether justified or not when there’s a divorce, illness or other trouble that descends upon a family. While some teens might turn to drugs or alcohol, Rochelle instead becomes an over-achiever.
Far more is confronted in this brilliant novel than the challenge of overcoming the death of a loved one, the complexities of family loyalty, or friendships stronger than blood ties. There is a well-sustained sense of mystery throughout as Rochelle’s life unfolds amid an initially alien culture of which she gradually becomes a part, driving choices which eventually deliver her to the last place she expected to be. Not only are the characters real but their lives and interactions as well. The level of detail makes you feel as if you know these individuals personally. You cry when they pass on and and will miss the others as you would a close friend when the story ends.
This story was chock full of themes, subplots, human nature and complicated relationships that bordered on being epic or perhaps one huge chunk of a family saga. The ending was satisfying enough to serve as a conclusion but there’s a tremendous amount of material begging for prequels and delving into the backgrounds of the different characters. I highly recommend this story as a great read to anyone looking for an intriguing, well-written story that will undoubtedly take you places you’ve never been before, even if you’ve been to Hawaii.