“One Boy, No Water” by Lehua Parker
“When Daddy got to the last piece of netting trapping its tail, the shark turned, and his knife wen slip, just nicking the tip of the shark’s tail. I thought Daddy was make die dead. He’d freed the shark so it could feed on him more better. But the shark turned and paused. It looked him in the eye, with that fierce, cold Niuhi manō eye, jet black in the water.”
In Lauele, Oahu, Hawaii 11-year old Alexander “Zader” Kaonakai Westin has vivid dreams and is strangely allergic to water – he gets blisters if he gets wet from salt water, rain water, and even bath water. When he is bullied at Summer Fun, despite support from his brother Jay, their Uncle Kahana Kaulupali decides to teach Zader, Jay, and their friend Char Siu (Charlotte Suzette) the Hawaiian lua, or self-defense.
Uncle Kahana watches Zader struggle with his ailment, and even creates a clunky, home-made hazmat suit so that Zader can get close to the ocean. When Jay sees a shark and is no longer willing to surf, Uncle Kahana tells them both about the fierce intelligence of the Niuhi shark, but it is Zader who finds a way to help Jay cope with his fears and return to the ocean.
Woven throughout the story is the mystery of Zader’s birth, a woman named Pua who is drawn to the land despite its danger; and Zader’s dreams of Dream Girl, who shows him fantastical places and warns him about Kalei, a scary man with too many teeth. At the end of the book, we are left wondering who Zader really is, whether he is in danger now that he has shed his blood at Piko Point, and what will happen now that the new art teacher, Justin Halpert, has taken an interest in him.
Written by Hawaii-born writer Lehua Parker, with illustrations by Corey Egbert, “One Boy, No Water” (2013), book I of the Niuhi Shark Saga, is a young adult contemporary fantasy about pono (doing what is right and being in perfect balance), respecting sharks and the ocean, learning how to see, and facing your fears. Zader copes with bullying (Zader faces name-calling and physical fights), being different, family (“I’m glad my real family found me,” Zader realizes), and secret identities (“The problem is you don’t know yourself,” Lē’ia challenges). There is a strong theme about respecting strength and recognizing predators, whether shark (Niuhi) or human (bully). “Only the nature of the shark matters. Niuhi or not. Maneater or not.”
There is also a brief commentary about Native Hawaiian rights. Pua and Kalei mourn that they have lost part of their land, and Kalei says, “What’s done is done… What do you want me to do? Run around waving signs, chanting ‘Keep Hawaiian lands in Hawaiian hands?’ That won’t give us this beach back. Nothing will. Too many people think they own parts of it now.” (page 91).
Reading “One Boy, No Water” as an adult, I really appreciated the familiar people, familiar language, the familiar places, and even the familiar foods. When I was in elementary and middle school, I sometimes had a hard time relating to the characters in the “classic” books that were assigned in class. My favorite chapter subtitle is “Shave ice: what every snow cone wants to be when it grows up.” I loved this simile with the flavor of Hawaii: “Effortlessly and as smooth as haupia on a lazy afternoon, Frankie coasted all the way to the sand.”
Note: Lauele is a fictional town, and the Pidgin dialect uses mostly Standard American English spelling for readability. You can find classroom materials on the Niuhi Shark Saga website.
If you were allergic to something in everyday life (like water, sunlight, moonlight, dirt, or grass), how would your life change? Have you ever been bullied? Have you ever stood up for someone being bullied? Have you overcome a childhood fear?