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Anywhere but Paradise


Anywhere but Paradise

It’s 1960, and 12-year-old Peggy Sue has just made the big move with her parents from Texas to Hawaii, the newly added 50th state of America. She didn’t want to move, and she finds no excitement in her new home --- everything is unfamiliar, and she’s singled out right away by eighth grader Kiki Kahana as a haole, a white person, an outsider to be hated.

To add to Peggy Sue’s distress, her beloved cat, Howdy, is being kept in an animal quarantine until it can be proven that he doesn’t have rabies (as Hawaii is a rabies-free state). Between Kiki’s threats to fight Peggy Sue on the last day of school as part of the “Kill Haole Day” tradition and her slipping grades, Peggy Sue wants nothing more than to leave Hawaii behind.

Luckily, she befriends her next-door neighbor, Malina, and starts taking hula lessons, finding great joy in dancing even though she knows she’s not the best. Things start looking up, but then tidal waves threaten to separate Peggy Sue from her family, and her relationship with Kiki becomes even more hostile. Peggy Sue wonders if she will ever feel at home on this island of paradise.

I also loved getting to read more about Hawaiian culture, as it’s not frequently represented in popular literature.

I really enjoyed the discussions of race and politics in Hawaii in ANYWHERE BUT PARADISE --- especially since the book took place race right after the islands joined the Union --- and wish that the author had explored these themes even more. I understand that this is a kids’ book, but I think there are many young readers out there who also would find these conversations engaging.

I also loved getting to read more about Hawaiian culture, as it’s not frequently represented in popular literature. ANYWHERE BUT PARADISE author Anne Bustard grew up in Hawaii (though she is not of Hawaiian descent), and her knowledge and experience came through in abundance, making it very easy to visualize the setting and scenery. I think this was the strongest element of the book, and it inspired me to want to learn even more about the islands and their traditions.

Bustard’s experiences also came through strongly in the character of Peggy Sue, who was a good protagonist who was easy to sympathize with. However, her way of speaking bothered me. She sounded like an inaccurate representation of a precocious 12 year old --- none that I know would ever say things like, “I want the truth unvarnished,” or “Why won’t she stop needling me?” or “Is this all a game, and I’m a bet?” This pulled me out of the story because it didn’t seem to fit her personality at all, and sometimes made her sound robotic.

Peggy Sue’s friend Malina was a great character --- bright, reliable and authentic --- and even Kiki, the antagonist, was grounded in realism and had a muted depth to her that I would have liked to see more of.

The only other major issue I had with the book was the pacing. It felt very slow for the first half, solely devoted to character development in a way that felt stretched a little too thin. Unfortunately, many of the early chapters felt like filler, and they diminished my investment in the story. I also felt like there was never consistent tension, which made the power of the stakes wane during certain parts of the book; at times I forgot how important it was that she was new to the island or how much she was working to buy a plane ticket home.  For me, ANYWHERE BUT PARADISE just lacked spark and energy at points, and there were untapped sources of energy that weren’t used to their full extent.

But despite this, I do still think ANYWHERE BUT PARADISE was a fine book with a very interesting story to tell. It’s not the most exciting book in my personal opinion, but I can imagine that it will entertain and delight many other readers, who will find a story of perseverance, understanding, growing up, change and acceptance. There are many great lessons to be learned from this story, and I hope that they stay with readers long after they finish the last page.

Reviewed by Corinne Fox on April 13, 2015

Anywhere but Paradise
by Anne Bustard