Tuesday, June 20, 2023

Lei and the Fire Goddess

Maunakea, Malia. Lei and the Fire Goddess
June 6, 2023 by Penguin Workshop
E ARC Provided by Edelweiss Plus

Leilani tends to go by "Anna" at home in Colorado, where her parents moved when her mother was able to get a good job in Boulder. She is more concerned with fitting in at her middle school, and getting along with her best friend Ridley. Her tutu (grandmother) is determined that she won't forget her Hawaiian culture, and has her come every summer to spend time on the island, near the small village of Volcano. Her father has made her memorize that family tree back many generations, and now that she is twelve, Anna must work on memorizing stories about her ancestors' pasts. She generally likes visiting, but wants to have more of a tourist experience so she can post pictures on fancy resorts on her social media in order to be like the other girls in her class. She does look forward to being with Kaipo, her best-friend-in-Hawai'i, but even he thinks her grandmother is right in wanting her to embrace her cultural heritage. When she plans to pick a flower from the Ōhi'a Lehua tree, Kaipo warns against it, saying that it will anger Pele, the goddess of the volcano. Anna picks it out of spite, citing the superstition that picking one will bring rain, but instead sets off an earthquake. Not only that, but a huge hawk circles the children and picks up Kaipo, carrying him away! There is lava headed towards her grandmother's house, but Anna knows she hsa to save her friend. She is helped by a talking bat named Ilikea, who helps her travel underground through lava tubes to get to the top of the mountain. When this doesn't work, Anna heads back to her grandmother's house, and TuTu shows her another way up and tells her that she will help neighbors evacuate. Anna is also helped by Makani, the wind, and various other creatures like butterflies that talk to her. She even meets Pele in the incarnation of a young girl, and thinks that the two get along, but Pele is still angry. Anna travels to retrieve a scale that is supposed to have magical powers, and realizes that talking to Pele's companion Kamapua'a might help. She learns some secrets about her family's past, as well as about Kaipo, and ends up having to learn hula and to challenge Pele to a sled race down the mountain. All of these activities help Anna connect more to her culture and family past, and she returns from rescuing Kaipo with a new sense of mission to embrace her identity fully as Leilani. 
Strengths: This wove together strands of middle school identity and cultural identity nicely, and had enough friend drama to draw in readers who might not otherwise pick up a fantasy book. I really liked the idea of having a certain persona and friends in Boulder, and another at her grandmother's house. The action starts very quickly, and the problem and quest to solve it are clearly laid out and easy to follow. I didn't have to take notes to keep track of what was going on, which I frequently have to do with fantasy. There are lots of descriptions of the island, and a lot of cultural touchpoints that are essential to the plot. This was a very fun action/adventure fantasy. 
Weaknesses: I wish there had been a glossary at the end. There were a lot of Hawaiian words that my students won't know, and while they could use their phones to look them up more quickly than I could, I'd rather not have them use any more screen time than they have to. Also, some terms like "kuewa", which the bat calls Anna, seem to have more weight than just the meaning I can find online. Also, I wouldn't have minded seeing more of the grandmother. 
What I really think: This seems like it will be a stand alone, and it was different enough from other fantasy titles that I will purchase it. Sure, there's a quest that goes underground and involves talking to magical creatures when the main character turns twelve, but I can't think of any other fantasy involving Hawaiian culture. What I would really like to see is some realistic fiction about middle school students living in Hawaii! 


  1. Anonymous8:23 PM EDT

    This book is intriguing--mixing contemporary, fantasy and Hawaii culture. Must not have been easy to write. Thanks for your comprehensive review. Carol Baldwin

  2. Anonymous2:06 AM EDT

    Seeing as how my friend wrote it and it was her first book I find it very good 😤 but that’s a personal opinion

    1. Ms. Yingling6:59 PM EDT

      I didn't say this was bad. I said I would purchase it, and I only buy about 30% of what I read. No reason for anger. There are a lot of middle grade fantasy tropes, and this did incorporate several, but there were some unique things that set it apart.