Bookish, Reccomendations

10 Best Fiction Books by Pacific Islanders

This is a story of a little island in the South Pacific…

Nesian Mystik : Polysaturated – Track 1 – Intro 2002

Actually lots of Islands. 10,000 in fact. Yep there are that many islands in Polynesia. And yet, Pacific Islanders are constantly overlooked. This is true too in literature. That is clear in the amount of time it took to find these books.

May is AAPI (Asian American and Pacific Islander) Heritage Month. Something I only found out about last year through the bookish community, as it is not celebrated in the Southern Hemisphere.

May is the month that, as a Pacific Islander, I get to share my culture, our colourful history, cultural cousins, ancestors and our myths and lore loudly and people (maybe) might actually listen.

So for the month of May, every week I will share something either from my childhood, my culture, our lore, our history, our stories. I’m not entirely sure what yet so I will keep this post updated but I hope you will come back and check it out.

For today though, as the title so clearly suggests, here are 10 of the Best Fiction Books written by Pacific Islanders.

#10 – Frangipani by Celestine Vaite

With a beautiful Tahitian backdrop, Frangipani is a character driven contemporary fiction. We follow the relationship between Materena, a hardworking, family-oriented Tahitian woman, and her brilliant, headstrong daughter Leilani.

In Tahiti, it’s a well-known fact that women are wisest, mothers know best, and Materena Mahi knows best of all—or so everyone except for her own daughter thinks. Soon enough, mother and daughter are engaged in a tug-of-war that tests the bonds of their love

#9 – This is Paradise by Kristiana Kahakauwila

Kristiana’s debut short story collection, of 6 stories all set in Hawaii. These, however, are not tourist stories (thank God). They each depict different tales of native Hawaiians in present day. Their lives, struggles, and being.

Elegant, brutal, and profound, this magnificent debut captures the grit and glory of modern Hawai’i with breathtaking force and accuracy.

In a stunning collection that announces the arrival of an incredible talent, Kristiana Kahakauwila travels the islands of Hawai’i, making the fabled place her own. Exploring the deep tensions between local and tourist, tradition and expectation, façade and authentic self, This Is Paradise provides an unforgettable portrait of life as it’s truly being lived on Maui, Oahu, Kaua’i and the Big Island.

In the gut-punch of “Wanle,” a beautiful and tough young woman wants nothing more than to follow in her father’s footsteps as a legendary cockfighter. With striking versatility, the title story employs a chorus of voices—the women of Waikiki—to tell the tale of a young tourist drawn to the darker side of the city’s nightlife. “The Old Paniolo Way” limns the difficult nature of legacy and inheritance when a patriarch tries to settle the affairs of his farm before his death.

Exquisitely written and bursting with sharply observed detail, Kahakauwila’s stories remind us of the powerful desire to belong, to put down roots, and to have a place to call home.

#8 – Ripple by Tui Allen

This is not Nemo, but a beautiful story, full of vivid imagery and a lyrically gorgeous prose. A story about a dolphin narrated by a bystanding deity. It’s a fascinating blend of mysticism, spirituality, oceanic lore, and a love of animals. Free on KU

Have you ever wondered what goes on in the great marine intellects of the whales and dolphins? What wonders might they have achieved during the tens of millions of years of planetary rule they enjoyed before humans came down from the trees?

Recently, forces from the universe decided that the time had come for humans to hear the defining story of their planet. This book is that story. Are we the last intelligent beings in the developed universe to hear it?

Live awhile in Ocean Mind. Be prepared to forget your human material obsessions as you slip away and dance the waves with the young female dolphin Ripple. A divine narrator of the Hereafter sweeps you from Ripple’s life in the unimaginably distant past to the not-so-distant future where you can see Ripple’s impact on modern humanity. Follow Ripple as she negotiates the beauties and horrors of the ancient oceans and falls in love with the fighter Cosmo in the wild surf of Point Savage. Be there beside her when love stimulates her to a single achievement which brings renown to this planet, changes the universe forever, exalts the angels and ensures Ripple’s fame will outlive the planet itself.

#7 Mutuwhenua by Patricia Grace

A story about culture, identity and interracial relationships. As a child of an interracial coupling where my grandparents don’t always understand (or try to understand) the differences in how we are raised, customs… or why my father couldn’t just marry a nice white woman, I feel like this a book that, though written in 1978, a lot still holds true by people from that generation and therefore, relevant today.

This is the story of Ripeka, who leaves her extended family and its traditional lifestyle to marry Graeme, a Pakeha schoolteacher. In the strange world of the city Ripeka discovers that she cannot make the break with her whanau, that the old ways are too strong.

#6 – Aue by Becky Manawatu

Becky Manawatu’s debut novel and winner of the ‘Ockham NZ Book Awards for Best First Fiction Book’. If you are looking for a book to break your heart and ruin you, but also fill you with hope read this. Aue takes a look at gang violence, poverty, domestic abuse in part through the eyes of a child. Similar themes to 5 Strings by Apirana Taylor and Once Were Warriors by Alan Duff.

Taukiri was born into sorrow. Auē can be heard in the sound of the sea he loves and hates, and in the music he draws out of the guitar that was his father’s. It spills out of the gang violence that killed his father and sent his mother into hiding, and the shame he feels about abandoning his eight-year-old brother to a violent home.

But Ārama is braver than he looks, and he has a friend and his friend has a dog, and the three of them together might just be strong enough to turn back the tide of sorrow. As long as there’s aroha to give and stories to tell and a good supply of plasters.

#5 – Sharks in the Time of Saviors by Kawai Strong Washburn

WINNER OF THE 2020 PEN/HEMINGWAY AWARD FOR DEBUT NOVEL and one of Barack Obama’s Favorite Books of 2020.

In 1995 Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, on a rare family vacation, seven-year-old Nainoa Flores falls overboard a cruise ship into the Pacific Ocean. When a shiver of sharks appears in the water, everyone fears for the worst. But instead, Noa is gingerly delivered to his mother in the jaws of a shark, marking his story as the stuff of legends.

Nainoa’s family, struggling amidst the collapse of the sugarcane industry, hails his rescue as a sign of favor from ancient Hawaiian gods—a belief that appears validated after he exhibits puzzling new abilities. But as time passes, this supposed divine favor begins to drive the family apart: Nainoa, working now as a paramedic on the streets of Portland, struggles to fathom the full measure of his expanding abilities; further north in Washington, his older brother Dean hurtles into the world of elite college athletics, obsessed with wealth and fame; while in California, risk-obsessed younger sister Kaui navigates an unforgiving academic workload in an attempt to forge her independence from the family’s legacy.

When supernatural events revisit the Flores family in Hawai’i—with tragic consequences—they are all forced to reckon with the bonds of family, the meaning of heritage, and the cost of survival.

#4 – Telesa: The Covenant Keeper by Lani Wendt Young

YA Star crossed lovers with amazing Samoan lore. We follow Laila an afakasi girl (half caste) who travels to her mother’s country of Samoa in search of a place to belong. What she finds is a vibrant culture steeped in nature, generous hospitality, and ancient mythology of Telesa

When Leila moves to her new home, all she wants is a family, a place to belong. Instead she discovers the local ancient myths of the telesa spirit women are more than just scary stories. The more she finds out about her heritage, the more sinister her new home turns out to be. Embraced by a Covenant Sisterhood of earth’s elemental guardians – what will Leila choose? Her fiery birthright as a telesa? Or will she choose the boy who offers her his heart? Daniel – stamped with the distinctive tattoo markings of a noble Pacific warrior and willing to risk everything for the chance to be with her. Can their love stand against the Covenant Keeper?

#3 – Illumine Her by Sieni A.M

A romance with a Samoan MC set in Samoa!!! As much as I love any work of fiction by my Polynesian peoples, to see romances and fantasy amongst the speculative and contemporary books makes my heart so happy. Free on KU

After being away for three years and graduating nursing school, Alana Vilo finally returns home to Samoa and knows nothing will ever be the same. Consumed with grief from the loss of her father, she buries herself in her work and the obligations that come with a large family.

While her colleagues anticipate the arrival of a mysterious benefactor, Alana remains unimpressed, until she meets him. Chase Malek is not at all what she expects of the philanthropist that has donated so much to help her island’s hospital. Young, handsome, and strangely knowledgeable of their local customs, Alana realizes there’s much more to Chase than meets the eye. After a traumatic experience with one of her patients, her suspicions are confirmed.

Alana starts to resurface as she attempts to uncover all of Chase’s secrets. As she starts to put the pieces together, she learns more about herself, and the walls she put up after her father’s death slowly start to crumble. But now that she’s opened her heart and let Chase in, will he even be able to stay? Or will his greatest secret of all keep them apart?

Sweet, clean romance set in the stunning back drop of the South Pacific

#2 – The Girl From Everywhere by Heidi Heilig

YA SFF about a time travelling pirate ship. Umm, yes please! Hawaiian author Heidi Heilig has created a really enjoyable story with this one and comes highly reccomended.

Nix has spent her entire life aboard her father’s ship, sailing across the centuries, across the world, across myth and imagination.

As long as her father has a map for it, he can sail to any time, any place, real or imagined: nineteenth-century China, the land from One Thousand and One Nights, a mythic version of Africa. Along the way they have found crewmates and friends, and even a disarming thief who could come to mean much more to Nix.

But the end to it all looms closer every day.

Her father is obsessed with obtaining the one map, 1868 Honolulu, that could take him back to his lost love, Nix’s mother. Even though getting it—and going there—could erase Nix’s very existence.

For the first time, Nix is entering unknown waters.

She could find herself, find her family, find her own fantastical ability, her own epic love.

Or she could disappear.

#1 – Whale Rider by Witi Ihimaera

A beautiful coming of age story, based on a well known legend in New Zealand/ Aotearoa.
I absolutely love this story. There was also a movie adaptation by the same title which was amazing!!

Eight-year-old Kahu, a member of the Maori tribe of Whangara, New Zealand, fights to prove her love, her leadership, and her destiny.
Her people claim descent from Kahutia Te Rangi, the legendary ‘whale rider.’ In every generation since Kahutia, a male heir has inherited the title of chief.
But now there is no male heir, and the aging chief is desperate to find a successor.
Kahu is his only great-grandchild—and Maori tradition has no use for a girl.
But when hundreds of whales beach themselves and threaten the future of the Maori tribe, Kahu will do anything to save them—even the impossible

Have you read any of these? What is your favourite Pacific Island author?

I have a few more recommendations so let me know if you would like any. Also a lot of PI tales have been adapted for screen and I can reccomend a few there as well.

Note: * This is an affiliate link. If you purchase something using one of these links, I’ll get a small commission at no extra cost to you. We all win!

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