The Lion in the Lei Shop by Kaye Starbird

A while back, I read the book

The Lion in the Lei Shop

by Kaye Starbird. It was recommended by Modern Mrs. Darcy. It happened to be one of the Kindle deals of the day, so I read it on my kindle. 

I think this was a hard book for me to read because, in many ways, it hit strangely close to home. It was a novel that was written from two perspectives, telling the story twice. The two characters are mother and daughter and the story explores the question of perspective and how the perspectives of adults and children differ.

Marty is five years old when her home in Hawaii is thrown into chaos by the attack on Pearl Harbor. Her mother, April, who is pregnant at the time, reacts with the dutiful obedience of an army wife and helps organize the women, including her sister, Liz, who is also pregnant and farther along than April. Yet, in the midst of the chaos around them, neither woman seems to communicate with or even pay attention to their children. And that, friends, is the theme of the story.

Starbird tells of how Marty and April travel to Boston to live with April’s parents before ending up buying a small house out in the country. Throughout the story, Marty is expected to take more and more responsibility, all the while April apparently ignores her daughter in her distress. The different perspectives are interesting because you hear Marty’s honest, childlike version of what happened, and then you hear her mother’s version, which rarely matches up with what Marty thought happened.

The story is really good, but the storytelling becomes really infuriating. The characters waver between enchanting and annoying as Marty becomes obsessed with a lion in her nightmare and April spends a good portion of the novel ignoring her daughter (and after the second baby is born, daughters) and the obvious problems she is having adjusting to life after the bombing. Typical of family life in this era, there is no communication between the mother and her daughters, leaving the little ones confused and angry.

This is a hard book to rate because the story and writing are so good, but the characters so infuriating at times. I don’t think I would reread this one, but I will give it

3.5/5 stars. I think it would be a good book for a book group or discussion.

100 Book Challenge—Book #7: The Help by Kathryn Stockett

I’ve been hearing a lot about The Help lately. In fact, last semester, Sr. Helen Prejean (yes, the famous author) recommended it to me personally while we were having dinner (sorry for the bragging, I just feel really cool when I say that). I knew I wanted to read it to see what the hype was all about, but I didn’t get a chance until now. Unfortunately, I cheated and watched the movie over Christmas Break. It’s a great movie, first of all. I loved watching it, and watching it with two of my favorite women (Teresa and Hannah Mugel… best friends forever!) made it even better. So, needless to say my expectations for the book were pretty high. I was not disappointed.

Stockett’s use of multiple viewpoints made the story even more enjoyable. I loved hearing what was going on in Aibileen, Minny, and Skeeters’ heads. The switching back and forth wasn’t too confusing, since they say at the top of the chapter who is narrating and I think that the unique viewpoints that you get are worth the trouble.

It was interesting to me that the author took it upon herself to give the viewpoint of an African American maid when she herself is white, but as she says in the afterward, while she will never truly understand what that was like, trying to understand it is vital. I think that trying to understand is important, and it helps us recognize that we’re really all the same, no matter what seems to separate us.

The story itself is beautiful. The world it takes place in is bittersweet—there is the simplicity of an age now gone, but there is the deep poverty in the human conditions caused by living in a world so dominated by hatred, fear, and inequality. It saddens me greatly that these things happened, it gives me a feeling of relief to know that (mostly) those days are past for the African American community.

But, after a long talk with my dear friend, Sarah, I am reminded that things are very much the same now as then, but instead of the African Americans fighting for their civil rights it is now the Mexican immigrants trying to feed their families. I think that Stockett’s book can open our eyes to the way in which we allow a barrier of race (and, sometimes language) to make us forget that we are all made in God’s image and likeness. I hate to think of how often the same attitude of the women in the book is present in women today who treat their Mexican maids the same way that these women treated Aibileen and Minny. Perhaps this is something to think about.