“The Islands at the End of the World” by Austin Aslan

Islands at the End of the World

“You need to avoid any adventures for a couple of weeks,” a doctor warns 16-year old hapa-haole Leilani Milton. But adventure is exactly what she can’t avoid.


Lei, who has epilepsy and is struggling to fit in, recently moved with her family from California to her mother’s home in Hilo, Hawaii. On a clinical trial visit to Honolulu with her dad Mike, there is a worldwide “Emerald Orchid” phenomenon that disrupts satellites and electronics, causes tsunamis, and results in mass panic – and causes Lei to have strange dreams during her seizures.


Lei and her dad try to get home to Hilo, three islands away, as Honolulu enacts martial law. At first, they end up at the Marine Corps Base in Kailua. Packed into refugee camps, they escape the military complex, steal a boat, and get shipwrecked on Kalaupapa, Molokai. There, they meet Uncle Akoni, a priest who tells them about nuclear meltdowns around the world and an inexplicable lack of radiation, which he believes has been soaked up by the “Emerald Orchid.” They still have to survive a sheriff’s posse on Maui, passage to Hilo, and the effects of the “Emerald Orchid” – and the part that Lei must play in saving them all.


Written in the first person, “The Islands at the End of the World” (2014) by Austin Aslan is a young adult disaster thriller about wanting to belong, how humans react to catastrophes, reliance on unsustainable resources, events that challenge our faith in God, fighting to go home, accepting who you are, and family. The story is packed with action, danger, philosophical questions about God, and how humans react during a crisis. Lei is a courageous girl who deals realistically with epilepsy. She shows courage in helping her father keep them alive and self-confidence in standing up for her beliefs, despite skepticism. In a fantastic way, Lei’s “disability” turns into an unexpected and unique strength. And her father Mike shows incredible trust and belief in her.


Aslan creates a distinct contrast between Honolulu, a modern city descending into lawlessness; and Kalaupapa, a place of exile that has turned into a sanctuary. He also highlights the philosophical divide among Native Hawaiians, contrasting Akoni, who wants to create a sanctuary, and Kana’ina, who wants to conquer the islands.


As I read, my heart was pounding and I felt a little anxious – this crisis takes place here in Hawaii, and it could be me or someone I know trying to get home to our families.


Could you survive a natural disaster? How far would you go to get home?

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