Paradise Lost: Behind the Postcard Veneer of Hawaii

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Hello all,

Plutark here to talk more about a fantastic book called Boi No Good (Chris Mckinney), Mckinney’s ability to create incredible characters (and not vehicles for his opinions), and a bit on local culture in Hawaii.

It took me a lot longer than I anticipated to complete Boi No Good. While it was an excellent read to the end and my recommendation remains, I found I had to put it down relatively frequently and force myself out of the story to keep from being overwhelmed by the despairing situations in the novel, and their accurate reflections of Hawaii today.

This book interested me initially because of the summary – three abused children, the development of their identity, their struggle to reconcile who they become with who each other became – all of that is spot on with my interests (psychologist-in-training, clinical interest in children and adolescents, research focus on traumatic stressors during childhood). However, I didn’t expect this book to be able to pull me in so deeply to issues unrelated to the characters’ childhood struggles.

The book takes place in contemporary Hawaii, beyond the idyllic palm trees and beaches of Waikiki, and explores our current struggles as a society and a state, from views that many (even in Hawaii) are unfamiliar with. Mckinney bridges that unfamiliarity with ease and is able to get the reader into the minds of each of his characters, allowing us to not only understand, but to empathize with their plights, actions, and beliefs. But nothing is ever “right” and no character is hero or villain. Despite being deeply engrossed in the main character’s story, I was simultaneously validated and disgusted by him – an experience I felt with most of the characters.

Mckinney allows the reader to explore controversial issues without coloring the experience with his personal opinions (a very difficult thing to accomplish), giving his story credibility and incredible impact. I found myself reevaluating things I thought I was set on, that I thought I understood. In particular, I found Mckinney’s exploration of Hawaii’s complex racism to be well written and well represented within several disparate and fascinating perspectives.

I could write a very lengthy and very complicated (and probably very boring) post about this last note, but I will refrain and briefly mention it for any others who might be interested. One theme that persists throughout the novel is the question, what does it mean to be local? In Hawaii, being “local” is something we value, something we use to create our cultural identity. But in a multi-cultural environment, with a changing racial and socio-economic demographic, how do we continue to define “local”? Mckinney leads us through several characters’ attempts at understanding what it is within our society that we consider local, and what it is within ourselves and others that make us local.

Have you ever read a novel that made you question your perceptions about your culture/city/state/country? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

Prompt: Every night after putting him to bed, a young boy’s father makes sure his closet doors are shut. His father tells him that if you leave it open, monsters come out of it at night. One night, the closet stays open. Tell me about what happened. 500 words.

-Plutark

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