Review: Red Sky Over Hawaii by Sara Ackerman

Review: Red Sky Over Hawaii by Sara AckermanRed Sky Over Hawaii by Sara Ackerman
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, World War II
Pages: 352
Published by Mira Books on June 9, 2020
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Inspired by real places and events of WWII, Red Sky Over Hawaii immerses the reader in a time of American history full of suspicion and peril in this lush and poignant tale about the indisputable power of doing the right thing against all odds.
The attack on Pearl Harbor changes everything for Lana Hitchcock. Arriving home on the Big Island too late to reconcile with her estranged father, she is left alone to untangle the clues of his legacy, which lead to a secret property tucked away in the remote rain forest of Kilauea volcano. When the government starts taking away her neighbors as suspected sympathizers, Lana shelters two young German girls, a Japanese fisherman and his son. As tensions escalate, they are forced into hiding—only to discover the hideaway house is not what they expected.
When a detainment camp is established nearby, Lana struggles to keep the secrets of those in her care. Trust could have dangerous consequences. As their lives weave together, Lana begins to understand the true meaning of family and how the bonds of love carry us through the worst times.

My Review:

The story of Red Sky Over Hawaii is a combination of real places and events, a real dog not contemporaneous with the history, and a plot that feels like it owes perhaps a bit too much to women’s fiction into a look at events in Hawaii for the year that immediately follows the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Both the Alaskan and Hawaiian experiences of the war were different from those on the mainland. Islands in the Aleutian chain, territory of the U.S., were occupied and held by Japanese forces during the war. Hawaii, although it was never held, was directly attacked by Japan on December 7, 1942, the day that FDR claimed would live in infamy. And so it has.

After the attack, the situation on the ground was also a bit different. The internment camps created to house Japanese-Americans, and the quickly passed and racially-motivated laws that saw so many from the West Coast forced to sell or abandon their property as they were shipped to hellish camps for crimes they had neither committed nor even been tried for, including young children, is a crime that is still being paid for.

But the story of Red Sky Over Hawaii shows that the situation was a bit different in Hawaii, and also reminds readers that American citizens from all of the Axis Powers were harassed, detained and imprisoned, although the numbers of German-American and Italian-American detainees were considerably fewer.

As this story begins, in the days before Pearl Harbor, Lana Hitchcock flies from Honolulu to Hilo on a rather scarily small plane in the hopes of seeing her estranged father one last time before he dies. The meeting is not to be, but in the aftermath of the attack, Lana finds herself alone, grieving and looking for a lifeline.

A lifeline that she catches in what could be considered unlikely as well as unfortunate sources, at least for others. Her father’s neighbors, a German-American couple with their two daughters, leave the girls with her when they find themselves detained by the FBI on suspicion of being, basically, German-Americans. Her other neighbors, the elderly Japanese American Mochi and his grandson Benji, are certain that Mochi, at least, will be rounded up and taken away as well.

Lana, in desperation, decides to help her neighbors, or at least their children, by taking as many of them as she can to the remote cottage that her father left her, near the volcano Kilauea. The volcano area is remote and sparsely populated. It should be safe for Lana and her collection of refugees.

But when the nearby Army base is opened as one of several Japanese-American detainment camps on the island, Lana and her charges are in grave danger. And Lana is in danger of losing her heart to one of the soldiers – someone who will never be able to forgive her for all the lies she has told in her attempt to keep everyone safe.

Escape Rating B: Fair warning, this is going to be one of my mixed feelings reviews. Because I have very mixed feelings about this book.

I really, really wanted to love this book. Truly. But I just didn’t. I ended up left with the feeling that it is very well written, well-researched, absolutely has an audience, and that I’m just not quite it.

One of the ways in which the writing really got me, as in it moved me terribly, was in the descriptions of Lana’s grief at her father’s sudden death and her regrets about the time they wasted not really communicating. Because I went through all of that and STILL have a whole lot of regrets and tears almost 30 years later. Some griefs never leave us, so that part of her story resonated so hard I almost couldn’t get through it.

At the same time, I found a lot of Lana’s story read like it belonged in a contemporary women’s fiction story rather than a book that feels like it’s trying to say something about the Hawaiian experience of World War II in the period directly after the attack on Pearl Harbor. And not that I don’t generally enjoy women’s fiction. It’s just that these two great tastes didn’t go great together IMHO.

I think that Lana’s troubles, for me, hit the “one too many” button. Her dad has just died, and that’s both heartbreaking and a necessary part of the story, as it’s her inheritance from him that provides the refuge for the family she gathers around herself. But she’s also separated from her cheating husband, about to get divorced, and her marriage fell apart because she can’t have children. AND there’s a scumbag after her and especially the two girls she’s taking care of. The addition of the scumbag felt over-the-top. It created a bit of a heroine-in-jeopardy plot that wasn’t needed. They were all in enough bloody jeopardy without the scumbag.

I have mixed feelings about the German-American parents being dragged off to detention leaving Lana with their two girls. Not that it wasn’t historically plausible, because it certainly was. But the detention of both German-Americans and Italian-Americans didn’t have the heavy weight of racial animus that the detention of Japanese-Americans certainly did. Although the way that the whole situation bowed to economic necessity was fascinating. Because of the large percentage of Japanese-Americans who were part of the Hawaiian population, the number of people in the internment camps remained relatively small as those people were needed to keep the economy running. Remote places like Hawaii (and Alaska) just don’t have an easy option for bringing large numbers of people in.

I did like the tiny bit of magical realism stuck into the healing properties of the honey made by the bees living in the shadow of the volcano. That part was cool and the touch of it was just right.

So a mixed bag of feelings, and a mixed-feeling kind of review. Your reading mileage may definitely vary.