Book Review: One Boy No Water by Lehua Parker

Book:  One Boy, No Water
Author:  Lehua Parker
Pages:   185
Format:  Hardcover, paperback
Publisher:  Jolly Fish Press
Book Source:  Provided by Publisher
Category:  Youth Fantasy
Style:  Easy, conversational style with lots of Hawaiian pidgin usage

Synopsis from GoodReads:

On the surface, despite his unusual allergies, Zader is an average eleven year old boy with typical challenges of fitting in with his peers, getting into a good prep school, and maintaining his relationship with his surfing crazed brother. In reality, Zader is Niuhi, a shark with the ability to turn into a person. As he matures and begins to adapt to his “allergies” in ways that make it easier to live a normal life, Zader’s world begins to turn upside down—he will not only have to come to terms with who he is, but what he is. . . . more

My Take:

What is the recipe for a really big hit in children's literature?  Below, I list what has been proven to work in the past.

  • Make the protagonist a defacto orphan.  Kahana, an aging, skinny Hawaian steeped in the ancient ways, finds a baby boy out on a reef just hours after birth and convinces his great-niece (who has just given birth to a boy herself) to adopt him.  They name him Alexander Westin and call him “Zader” for short.  Surrounded by a loving, supportive family cannot make Zader anything but a fish out of water.
Zader bonds with Uncle Kahana's
poi dog, Ilima.
  • Make the protagonist an isolated underdog.  Zader lives in Hawai’i and learns to join his almost-twin James (“Jay”) out in the surf.  However, water on his skin causes excruiciating pain and huge blistering welts to instantly emerge on his skin.  He also cannot eat rare meat or raw seafood.  Living in Hawai’i, these prove serious handicaps.  
    As the artistic kid with bizarre allergies, Zader makes a perfect outsider, the kid who sits on the sidelines watching other kids play football while he watches the weather. He's always watching out for rain.
  • Mark him, so people instantly recognize his otherness.  Zader’s mother won't allow him to leave the house without an umbrella, which further stigmatizes him.  His flat black eyes give the willies to anyone who meets his gaze, so they don't.
  • Make him likable.   Zader is a nice kid who would rather suffer in silence than have Jay get into a fight.  He’s respectful to his elders, compassionate, and thoughtful.  He best displays his artistic talents when making gifts for his family.
  • Give him a close-knit group of friends who will stick by him, come what may.  Zader has Jay, the cool kid, athletic, the natural-born surfer bound to go pro, whom everybody loves.  He also has his cousin Charlotte Suzette (“Char Siu”), the smart-as-a-whip goody-goody who lives across the street.  Zader and Jay are inseparable, except for when Jay is surfing.  Jay fights Zader’s battles.  Zader helps Jay overcome his fears.
  • Create a mysterious, almost intangible but very real antagonist who haunts the peripheries of his consciousness.  Zader dreams about his dangerous, predatory biological uncle, Kalei.  He is always searching for Zader in his dreams, but when they stumble over one another in real life, Kalei barely notices him.  
Kehena Beach, Big Island
  • Set it in somewhere strange . . . sort of.  The story is set in exotic but familiar Hawai’i.  Zader and friends speak pidgin English but are, without doubt, all-American kids.  Zader's world is safe—for now.  
    Ms. Parker manages the unfamiliar vocabulary with a deft hand. At the beginning of each chapter, she introduces a new word, phrase, or concept common in Hawai’i, so when the reader encounters them, they are understood. 
    In addition to explaining the language and its usage in the Hawaiian culture in the beginning of the book, she gives each of her characters a unique voice that rings true in the reader’s “ear”. Despite the unfamiliarity, One Boy, No Water (itself phrased in pidgin) delights.
  • Don't forget the magic.  I don’t know a kid (or adult) who doesn’t fantasize about having supernatural powers.  In One Boy, No Water, Zader hasn’t yet discovered his own, but with Ms. Parker’s skillfully woven tale, we know that he has them.  Not until the end of the book do we realizes his “nightmares”, a result of his allergies, are far more. 
  • Give the protagonist a wise, aged mentor.  Uncle Kahana takes Zader under his wing, gives him the tools to make life bearable, and gradually educates him, Jay, and Char Siu in the ancient culture of Hawai’i, and shares a special bond with the man-eater or “Niuhi” sharks. 
Spear fisherman in Hawaii-Carschten
Uncle Kahana was spear fishing when he found Zader
  • Give him roots to discover.  Zader yearly receives a rare treasure on his birthday.  The Westins only know they are gifts from his birth family.  As the book progresses, we learn more about them, although Zader does not.
  • Make him yearn for the seemingly unattainable.  Zader longs for freedom from the bullies who torment him in Jay’s absence.  Along with Jay and Char Siu, he sets his sites on a private school with incredibly high standards.  However, sticking together remains their top priority.
  • Make it interesting to adults.  Ms. Parker respects the intelligence of her readers, of all ages.  She masterfully relays her coming-of-age tale, making it simple enough for tweens to understand.  

  • However, through Zader’s dreams and with discussions between the adults, she creates powerful subtext that children that age will miss but those more mature will not. Her compelling writing instantly engages, her characters feel real, and she addresses universal issues of growing up, no matter where you’re from.
  • Leave them begging for more.  As the pages dwindle, we sit on the edge of our seats, impatient for Zader to figure things out.  Just when we think he does, Ms. Parker backs away, like offering us a treat, then snatching it away when we reach for it, with a sly look on her face.  

  • She teases us with last-minute revelations that reveal a much deeper plot than what she has chosen to tell, expertly reflecting the development of a child’s understanding. She sets us up for the next installment of The Niuhi Shark Saga, assured we will return to get our next fix.
Ms. Parker manages all these things, but, raised as she was in Hawai'i, she does so with a unique voice in an engaging, completely original tale.  Nothing feels formulaic or "by the numbers".  The certain success of One Boy, No Water, will be all her own.

Bottom Line:  Lehua Parker hits one out of the park with  One Boy, No Water.  This book belongs in the “Youth Literature” category, and proves the author an expert in her craft.  Unlike that other blockbuster children’s series, Ms. Parker starts out strong, confident in her writing abilities.  She absorbs the reader in the story to the extent they forget it is a “children’s” book.

Ms. Parker's debut novel dangles the bait, sets the hook, and reels us in.  She has chummed the waters.  Expect a feeding frenzy when the subsequent volumes of the Niuhi Shark Saga arrive.  Jolly Fish Press continues to garner its reputation with high-quality offerings, as proven in One Boy, No Water and Big In Japan.

Wait! Don't forget to enter to win a free copy of One Boy, No Water in the Rafflecopter form below.

Mark your calendars!  One Boy, No Water is scheduled for retail release on September 29, 2012.

a Rafflecopter giveaway FTC disclaimer:  A galley copy of this book was provided by the author or their agent with the understanding I would publish a fair and honest review.  I received no other compensation for this content.


Weaver said...

Kaui'i is my favorite of the islands, nice as Maui is, so that would be my choice. But I'd stay with my daughter who lives there. =D

Thomas said...

Kauai sounds awesome.

Esgaroth said...

Penny, may I tag you in a WIP questionaire carnival? (only 10 questions) - I have the rules at my blog:

Anonymous said...

The Cabana on the beach for sure! :)

Unknown said...

Esgaroth, I apologize for not answering this sooner. I've been sadly neglectful of this blog of late. In answer to your question, as much as I appreciate the attention, right now is not a good time. Thanks for thinking of me, though. Keep on blogging!

Esgaroth said...

No worries at all Penny! I didnt exactly follow up on my end of the deal, but it all worked out. Best regards!