Jan 20

Book Review: The Descendants

The DescendantsThe Descendants by Kaui Hart Hemmings


This novel has everything you might want in a novel. It has rich family dynamics, complex and changing relationships, and a lush and fascinating background.

It’s set in Hawaii, where Matt King is one of the last descendants of a land speculator and a Hawaiian princess. He’s also the largest shareholder in a trust of land which is due to be broken up and sold. He’s distracted from making a decision on who the trust will sell it to by the fact that his beautiful and vivaicous boat racing, swimsuit model wife Joannie is in a coma after a boating accident. He has to (temporarily, he assumes) figure out how to take care of his two troubled girls until Joannie comes out of her coma and takes over the family again.

Matt seems to be the king of denial, since it’s apparent to the reader (but not to Matt) that Joannie was a bit of a bitch. Bartenders and other men seem to worship her, her children fear her, and Matt just loves her. Even after he finds out his wife had been having an affair, he still loves her. For reasons not clearly explained, Matt takes his daughters out of school and they, along with his daughter’s friend Sid, fly to another island to let Joannie’s lover know that she’s in a coma, and that he should make his last goodbyes.

What I loved about this book was that the author lets you know things without actually telling them outright. Matt dodges the family doctor at the hospital, which lets you know that he is afraid of what the doctor will tell him, which means that he knows that his wife isn’t doing well, and he isn’t ready to accept it yet. This book deals a lot with coping and acceptance of grief, learning to do without someone, learning how to let someone you love die, especially if they weren’t a perfect person and you had a lot to be angry about.

What I didn’t love about this book was the character of Scotty (the unfortunate name of his younger daughter.) Scotty is supposed to be ten, and she’s right at the cusp of pubescence, but they treat her like she’s five. For example, they assume she’s too young to know the truth about what’s going on, so they just lie and lie and lie to her. I had a hard time reconciling some of the parts of Scotty with other parts. Would you really not tell a 10 year old that her mother was dying? Matt kept saying “she’s too young” which made me wonder if she was supposed to be younger than ten. It seems inhumanly cruel to lie about something that important to a girl that age. Maybe if she were three or four…but, no. In retrospect, I don’t think the author mis-interpreted the age of Scotty, I think the author correctly interpreted the messed up thought processes of parents who associate “lying to children” with “good parenting.”

Since it deals with grief and dying, this book is as sad as you’d expect, but I think it’s worth it to hear the story and get to know these vivid characters.

View all my reviews

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