The Islands at the End of the World is a part of the Islands at the End of the World Series collection.
In this fast-paced survival story set in Hawaii, electronics fail worldwide, the islands become completely isolated, and a strange starscape fills the sky. Leilani and her father embark on a nightmare odyssey from Oahu to their home on the Big Island. Leilani’s epilepsy holds a clue to the disaster, if only they can survive as the islands revert to earlier ways.
A powerful story enriched by fascinating elements of Hawaiian ecology, culture, and warfare, this captivating and dramatic debut from Austin Aslan is the first of two novels. The author has a master’s degree in tropical conservation biology from the University of Hawaii at Hilo.
Praise for Islands at the End of the World:
“A riveting tale of belonging, family, overcoming perceived limitations, and finding a home.”--School Library Journal, Starred
"Aslan’s debut honors Hawaii’s unique cultural strengths--family ties and love of home, amplified by geography and history--while remaining true to a genre that affirms the mysterious grandeur of the universe waiting to be discovered."--Kirkus Reviews, Starred
"Aslan’s debut is a riveting tale of belonging, family, overcoming perceived limitations, and finding a home."--School Library Journal, Starred
An Excerpt fromThe Islands at the End of the World
Sunday, April 26
They’ve been getting bigger all evening. This one might be too big, but I can’t be choosy. Dad’s waiting on the bluff, arms crossed. I lie down on my board and drive my arms through the water.
No sweat. Just relax.
“Geev’um, Lei!” shouts Tami.
The wave is coming like a train. I paddle fiercely, though the life vest rubs my upper arms raw.
The wave pulls on me, hungry. For once my timing is perfect. The wave surges under me; I catch the break and spring up on the board.
Two seniors on their boards shoot me the stink-eye as I wobble past. One snickers. The life jacket feels like a straitjacket. I nearly tumble backward off the board but catch my balance.
I kick my back leg to the left and angle the board to the right, feeling a rush of speed. I dart between a keiki bodyboarder and a lazy green sea turtle, finally sinking back into the water as the wave dies. I turn to salute Tami, who’s bobbing out past the first breaks. Her honey-blond corkscrews bounce even when wet.
“Next week!” I shout.
“Nice one, girl!” she yells back. “Aloha! Enjoy the north shore!”
All next week I’ll be in Honolulu, on the island of O’ahu, with Dad, and he’s promised me some time at Banzai Pipeline on the north shore. Just to watch. Only the pros tackle those waves.
I sweep my long, soaked hair out of my face as I clamber over the rocks tumbling in the breaking surf. O’ahu. Anxiety flutters through me. I’m surfing to forget the EKGs and MRIs and OMGs that I’ll be facing.
You just nailed one of your biggest waves ever. Focus on that.
I trudge up the steep stairs to the road, using both arms to carry my longboard. Dad takes it from me as I reach the car, offers me a high five. “Way to end the day.”
I smile and clap his waiting hand. “Thanks.”
He leans against our purple car, a MAY THE FOREST BE WITH YOU bumper sticker broadcasting his dorkiness. We have the only hybrid vehicle in a long row of big trucks at the end of the cliff. Come to think of it, I can’t remember the last hybrid car I saw in Hilo--or on the entire Big Island of Hawai’i.
“That was totally gnarly, but I’m still annoyed you made me wait so long.” He passes me a towel after he places the board on the car’s rack.
“Dad,” I groan. A couple of Hawaiian girls from school walk past us on the steep road, giving me a hard look. I turn away as I slip out of my vest. “No one asked you to babysit me. And ‘gnarly’? Wrong century.”
Dad runs a hand through his Malibu-certified sandy hair. His grin widens. “Whoa. Sorry, dudette.” He intentionally raised his voice so those girls would hear, didn’t he? Drives me nuts.
“You more relaxed?” He ties the board down for me.
No. But I nod. A light drizzle begins to fall. Rain on the Hilo side of the Big Island is as abundant as sun in a desert. It’s like background noise. I keep drying off as I sit in the car. I eye the steering wheel. I’m sixteen, finally old enough to drive. The doctor hasn’t signed off on me getting my license yet, but I manage to get behind the wheel now and then.
“Can I drive?”
“Haven’t you done enough damage to Grandpa’s clutch?”
I toss my towel in the back and look in the mirror. Long black hair. Oval face with high cheeks. My eyes are hazel, my complexion is . . . too light. I’m almost as white as Dad. Pretty, I guess, if you listen to my parents. If I ever get a boyfriend, maybe I’ll believe it.
Dad performs one of his infamous fifty-point turns to get us facing the right direction on the narrow road. I glance down from the cliff at the strip of rocky beach. The waves are getting big. Tami better wrap it up. We pull away and the hard-eyed local girls study our car as we roll past. I know one of them--Aleka. She’s always staring me down. I sink into my seat.
“You were good out there,” Dad says. “It’s coming to you pretty naturally now.”
“Dad, being a haole around here pretty much sucks--especially a haole with head issues--”
“You’re hapa,” he corrects me, feigning shock. “You’re only half white, hon. I’m the only haole here. Your mother and grandparents count for something, don’t they?”
Mom and her parents are pure Hawaiian. That’s beside the point. I was born and raised in the Bay Area of California. Mom always wanted to return to her home. Three years ago she and Dad became professors of ecology at the University of Hawai’i at Hilo, and here we are.
“But . . . I can’t go in the water without you spying . . . or without a vest. Goofing off around me in front of this crowd only makes it worse.”
“Sorry, hon. I’ll stop doing that--on purpose. Howzit, anyway? Looks like you fit in just fine.”
I force a smile. “Things are okay.”
“Hey, wanna hit Wilson’s for some ice shave?” We’re at the stop sign leading onto the highway. Our house is to the right, a few miles north of Hilo.
We turn left, toward Hilo.
“Don’t let this ruin your appetite for dinner,” Dad warns as he turns onto the bay front. The clouds and rain have retreated, the sun is getting ready to set over Mauna Kea, and the sky is full of colors that can only be . . . Hawaiian. The “gorgeous colors,” Mom calls them.
“No problem. I’m starving.”
Wilson’s-by-the-Bay is like most Hilo joints--a run-down hole-in-the-wall. We get in line and wait.
I’m reminded of a bumper sticker that I’ve seen a lot since moving here: RELAX, THIS AIN’T THE MAINLAND. Life moves at its own pace in Hilo. I can’t even see an epilepsy specialist without taking a weeklong trip to another island.
I fiddle absently with the medical bracelet shackled to my wrist.
“Wanna talk about it?” Dad asks.
Not really. Or maybe I do. I shrug. “Just nervous.”
Wilson’s is famous for snow cones--called ice shaves in Hilo. Three bucks gets me one the size of a football, with a vanilla-ice-cream core, drowned in as much flavored syrup as I want, covered in condensed cream, and capped with li hing mui powder. Dad gets cherry, pina colada, liliko’i, and bubble gum.
“Bubble gum?” I ask.
Like some sort of corn-syrup vampire, Dad’s too busy sucking the life force out of his prey to answer.
As we walk back to the car, a siren pierces the calm. Dad and I share a look of confusion. He says, “Tsunami warning?”
I raise my eyebrows. A gigantic wave on the way? I’ve done plenty of drills at school, but this would be my first town-wide alert. The ballooning swells at Honoli’i suddenly make sense. “Maybe we’re finally in for some real excitement.”
“Careful what you wish for,” Dad says.
I smile guiltily. Small tsunamis damage the coast every few years. Big ones are rare, but they pack a wallop. An entire class of schoolchildren was once swept out to sea, up near the town of Laupahoehoe, by a wave reported to be fifty feet high. And Hilo’s shoreline is full of big parks and grassy fields instead of restaurants and shops and hotels because of a thirty-footer that pulverized the coast in the 1960s.
“Let’s go,” says Dad. “Don’t want to get stuck in town if this is more than a drill.”
We zip out of the lot. The coastal belt road is jammed. As we creep along, I finish my ice shave and surf the Web on my phone. “I don’t think it’s a drill.”
“There was a meteor strike in the northern Pacific.”
“A couple of hours ago. Not very big. It says they usually burn up in the atmosphere before making impact.”
“I should warn Tami. Can we stop back at Honoli’i?”
“No,” Dad says. “They can hear the sirens from the beach. She’ll be fine. Where was the meteor?”
“About eight hundred miles south of Alaska.”
“Oh.” Dad furrows his brow, booting the calculator in his brain. “That’s far. Should take a couple hours to ripple out to us. Hopefully nothing more than a good surge by then.”
The car horns are louder than the distant sirens. Traffic lets up once the northbound highway broadens into two lanes. I text Tami:
Big one on the way. Get outta the water.
She hits me back:
Thanks for warning. Plenny good if I surfed with my phone. Wanna hit the swell?
My thumbs fire back:
I wish. Ur nuts.
The sun has set behind Mauna Kea. The purple silhouettes of the volcano’s distant observatories jut above the sacred mountain like a crown. Clouds paint the bruised sky with broad strokes of orange.
We pull up to the house in the shadowy dark of thick rain forest and falling night. Mom and Kai are just getting out of their car.
Dad and I get out and Mom says, “What happened? You were supposed to be home an hour ago. We’re starving.”
Dad grins. “Yes, we’re safe. Thanks for asking. The tsunami--”
“Don’t even try that.” She plucks a plumeria flower off the tree branch near the lanai steps and guides its stem into her long, velvety black hair, just above the ear. She does this every night. I’m not sure she’s aware that she does it. “You were supposed to be back long before the sirens even started.”
Dad unties my board from the top of the car. “Uh, Leilani wouldn’t get out of the water.”
I shoot him a glare.
“You went to Wilson’s, didn’t you?” Mom sees the crumpled paper cones in the car. Her voice is stern, but when she turns toward me she’s holding another plumeria blossom, and she gently tucks it into my hair with a smile. She has beautiful dark eyes and Polynesian features. I wish I looked like her.
“Leilani,” she whispers. She always says my name when she puts flowers in my hair. My name means “Flower of Heaven.”
“That too.” Dad is sheepish. “I bought you one, but it melted.”
“My dad’s coming tonight,” Mom says.
“Grandpa’s spending the night?”
“He’s going to help me get Kai to school and the gym while you’re gone. And he wants to see you off. So, let’s eat. Airport at six a.m. tomorrow. And guess what: your son landed his first back handspring tonight, no spot.”
“Yeah, Dad.” My little brother, Kai, jumps up the steps.
“Nice,” I say. “You’ll be taking home trophies a solid year before I did.” Kai’s seven, but he’s pretty advanced at everything he tries.
“Yeah, all-around trophies, not just for the girlie uneven bars.”
I poke his side; such a tease.
“Keep practicing.” Dad runs his fingers through Kai’s hair. “And don’t make fun--the bars are difficult to nail, and Lei was the best.”
Before I was dropped from the gymnastics team for being an epileptic--the chance of my having a stress-related fit during a competition was too great, the insurance company said. Still, I’m happy for Kai.
He gives me a big grin. “I rode my biggest wave yet,” I tell him. “And--did you hear about the meteor?”
He nods. “Food!”
“Who are you? King Kamehameha?” Mom unlocks the front door and swings it open. “Lei--are your bags packed? You ready to go?”
“Check,” I say.
Dad starts to sing “Leaving on a Jet Plane.” He has a pretty good voice. Maybe if he chose to sing somebody other than John Denver, I’d meet him halfway with a compliment.
Kai chimes in, belting the lyrics to compete with the coqui frogs chirping in the darkness. “Don’t know when I’ll be back again.”
“Didn’t John Denver die in an airplane crash?” I ask as I climb the stairs.
“Leilani!” my parents gasp.
“I’m just sayin’, maybe it’s not the best song for before a flight.”
“Inside,” Mom says. “Come on. Mosquitoes.”
The living-room walls are draped with volleyball pennants from both UH Hilo and UH Manoa. Posters of Merrie Monarch Festival hula dancers in every pose surround the room. My dusty gymnastics trophies crowd a bookshelf around a photo of a twelve-year-old me twisting on the bars at a Bay Area meet, my black hair in a tight bun and my turquoise leotard shrink-wrapped to my tall, wiry frame.
Now I lean back on the couch, stretching my legs. My Hawaiiana book and a pile of homework lie on the coffee table. It’s the last month of my junior year--time to start thinking about finals.
Dad heats up the frozen pizzas in the oven while Mom is on the computer in the corner.
“Good,” Mom says. “They’re already downgrading the tsunami threat for Hawai’i. The meteorite wasn’t very big. No need to worry about them closing the airport.”
“How do they even know that?” Kai asks.
“Someone’s always looking,” Dad says. “Good eyes are all you need. That, and a little bit of math.”
“Please, no math,” Kai mutters.
“Isn’t a small meteorite still pretty powerful?” I ask.
“On land, maybe,” Dad says. “The ocean does a better job of absorbing the energy.”
“Well, yeah,” Mom adds. “Except the energy turns into waves.”
I absently hear a gecko call out with its strange kiss kiss kiss sound; it’s walking up the living-room window. I’m texting Tami:
Threat downgraded. No epic wave for you.
Mom stares at the computer. “The president just bailed on the Carbon Credit Conference.”
“What?” Dad says.
“He ditched a fund-raiser in Miami, too.”
My phone chimes. Tami:
Already out. Chowing down a double teri @ Blanes. You?
I smile. I can just see her freckly face buried in that messy burger. She’s a toothpick, but legendary in my family for her ability to eat. Mom says she’s like the amakihi, the smallest of the Hawaiian birds: always in motion and always foraging.
“What is he thinking?” Dad asks.
I tap back:
Frozen pizza. Ono. You suck.
Mom keeps reading. “I don’t get it.”
I can see the headline on her laptop:
PREZ SNUBS HIGHLY CHARGED CARBON TRADING SUMMIT--
Regional Events Scrapped
“It’s two in the morning back east,” Mom says. “We’ll get the full scoop come morning.”
My phone chimes again:
Totally ONO! Yummy. Ha ha! Have a fun week. Lots of pics from the north shore yeah?
Pics of PROS. Not you. LMAO.
“Pizza’s ready,” Dad calls.
Kai cartwheels into the dining room and lands squarely on his chair. “Great. But what are you all going to eat?”
Mom comes to the table and glances over at our luggage in the corner. “What’s in those bags, you guys? Are you going to O’ahu or running off to the Peace Corps?”