Set on the Hawaiian island of Maui, single mother Charlene has been caring for her infirm father and young son Brandon alone for years. When her father dies, Charlene is unmoored and decides to go to medical school, when her musician brother Rob returns. While Rob seems like a nice guy, a fight with his father years ago had left Charlene with no one else to help when their father slipped into dementia. Charlene, Brandon, and Rob teeter through dysfunction as they try to come to a new equilibrium with this new family dynamic. It was an interesting look at how people process grief, and as someone who lost their mother a bit over a year ago, I could relate.
Despite its short length, this story packs a punch. Illustrated in black and white with grayscale, the only additional color used is orange. The panels show a slice-of-life in an environment we often correlate with paradise, but for this family, it is anything but. There is a theme of fire, in the sugarcane fields nearby, but the fire also symbolized rebirth, such as when fire (or trauma) burns your life to the ground. Life is messy, and there is no straight line to success.
Author and illustrator R. Kikuo Johnson expertly showcases a true-to-life look at grief and family dynamics. Bittersweet and tender- adults who are facing new chapters in their life will relate.