FRECKLED: A Memoir of Growing Up Wild in Hawaii is author Toby Neal’s life story, candidly opening wide new vistas regarding what it means for children and their adults to be alive, endeavoring to grow up in contemporary America, including its undomesticated outer islands.
Hawaii is a beautiful location, but not necessarily a gentle one. Especially to outsiders. Reminiscent of the rough-and-tumble tales in Lois-Ann Yamanaka’s Wild Meat and the Bully Burgers, FRECKLED delves deeply into similarly harsh terrain as author Toby Neal and family sometimes thrive but often just barely survive, alternating between an unconventional, off-grid life in the Hawaiian Islands and escaping to mainland California where Pop’s family dine regularly at the local country club. In Hawaii, there are floods, parental miscarriages, unbridled drug use, and times of incipient mental instability. There is also violence, racial tension, economic hardship, and near drownings. But contrasting all this is the freedom of turquoise ocean surfing and making music on the beach, of running everywhere with no shoes, of eating mangoes that fall from trees and rubbery octopus caught single-handedly in a tide pool when the month’s Food Stamps have run out. (Though it is touch and go for awhile, whether the large octopus or small child would win this deadly battle!)
Like many children growing up, the author is certain she does not belong…but in the very mixed-race reality of the Hawaiian Islands, that is a message often unkindly and not subtly received from classmates who predominately are not haole (white/Caucasian ‘outsiders’) as she is, and whose brown-skinned families are still dealing with the after-effects of illegal U.S. colonization. Each scene is marvelously rendered with precise, evocative attention to detail. From playing tiger with playmates by planting real spikes in hidden holes that could easily maim someone, to viewing a perfect premature brother tucked inside an actual matchbox, this memoir is poignant, distressing, enlightening, tender, inspiring, real.
The memoir FRECKLED: A Memoir of Growing Up Wild in Hawaii, reads like the best kind of novel: the characters are engaging, the plot moves along with heart-thumping briskness, and underlying themes have universal merit.
~C.S. Holmes for IndieReader