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By TW Neal

There is a subtle but crucial difference between passionate idealism and addiction…and people can be addicted to not only substances, but also to other people, places, and idealized versions of Life. In complicated, volatile times, one of the hardest, yet most valuable things for individuals, communities,  nations–perhaps all of humanity–to do, is to learn how to break longstanding, dysfunctional patterns and make fresh, healthier choices. In FRECKLED: A MEMOIR OF GROWING UP WILD IN HAWAII, author TW Neal and family endeavor to do just that.

Neal tells–exceptionally well–of growing up in a much fantasized-about location few people know. From childhood until her much longed-for escape, the memoir follows young Toby and her counter-culture, back-to-the-land family to and fro from the mystical island of Kauai to more conventional California, from where relatives with money, television, junk food, and flush toilets, regularly rescue them. And from this, one gets a window into what tropical island life, which so many outsiders fantasize about, can really be like.

In Kauai, pale, red-headed Toby sticks out like “a lit match”  in a sea of Hawaiian, Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Portuguese, Filipino, and mixed-race locals in the remote, rural location which — unbeknownst to young Toby (and perhaps also to much of the hippie, surfer community arriving in the 1960s and 70s)–is a locale many native residents consider more of a separate, illegally-colonized/occupied, sovereign Nation than America’s 50th state. While Toby’s parents find themselves, in this time of assassinations and politically-motivated wars, ready to create an entirely different reality, in typical teenage rebellion, all Toby wants is to be normal.

Surviving her family’s penchant (and sometimes desperate need) for garden-grown vegetables, homesteading in tents, vans, and ramshackle off-the-grid shacks, Toby’s childhood escapes of books and babysitting provide glimpses into other possible lives. What this spunky, insatiable learner wants is to someday have a nice bed in a nice house with a nice, non-alcoholic family and a good job. In fact, she keeps a Future Dream Life list:  “Owning a home instead of renting. Driving a decent car, not a live-in van. Going to church on Sundays and eating steak once a week, instead of meditating and eating tofu. Jogging and the gym instead of surfing as a compulsion. Owning a dog that you love enough to take to the vet—not drop off at the dump or give away to a stranger. Hiring a lawn service, instead of being the lawn service.”

There are a few formatting issues (such as inconsistencies with chapter headings) that should be corrected, but other than that, it’s near perfect. The unique cast of ‘characters’ and story are well-developed, and it’s a story told exceptionally well.

Personal memoirs can be written for cathartic, transformational value, even if readers are few. But in the case of FRECKLED, a complex and compelling story of family, love, race relations, Hawaii and personal growth, the audience could and should be many.

~Cristina Salat for IndieReader