Girl of the Year 2011: Aloha, Kanani

Author: Lisa Yee
Illustrator: Sarah Davis


Ten-year-old Kanani can hardly wait for her fourteen-year-old cousin Rachel to visit. She'll be there a month while her mother is on a honeymoon (she just remarried after a divorce) and moving into a new apartment. They haven't seen each other since the family reunion four years ago, and Rachel, a New Yorker, has never been to Hawaii before. When she arrives, Rachel seems shy, or maybe tired: it's a long trip from the east coast. Once she's had a chance to rest, Kanani shows her town. She finds herself wondering if her trendy cousin thinks the buildings and people there are too backward, but Rachel does seem interested in learning about the place she'll be staying for a month. But when Kanani says they should swim, Rachel won't, and she's overwhelmed by all the new food and culture, shrinking back from it all rather than jumping in. It's going to be a long month if Rachel doesn't want to experience anything Hawaiian. Kanani worries she's offended Rachel. 

The next day starts out a little better, with Rachel being more open to experiencing Hawaii. But soon the girls get in a fight, Kanani accusing Rachel of looking down on everything in Hawaii for not being as trendy as the things in New York and Rachel saying that Kanani won't shut up about how Hawaii is the greatest. Rachel goes on, and it's clear that she feels abandoned: her mother doesn't want her on the honeymoon and her dad's too busy with work and a new baby (he's remarried too), so she's sent off to stay with family she hardly knows. The girls are distracted from their fight when they spot a rare monk seal, a pup tangled in a fishing net. Rachel stays with it while Kanani gets a federal worker to help (monk seals are endangered and each time one is spotted they're supposed to alert a particular rescue group). The seal is soon freed and swims away, having been declared healthy by a biologist. Kanani is thrilled, but Rachel seems upset. Kanani can't figure out what's going on with her cousin. 

But then she has an inspiration. Kanani takes Rachel paddleboarding---and Rachel loves it! She can see the beautiful things in the ocean without getting in it. Rachel's a decent swimmer but afraid of deep water. The paddleboard is perfect for her. Once the cousins have found something Rachel loves, time passes quickly. Before Rachel goes back to the New York City, Kanani takes her snorkeling. They also visit a secluded cove, and see the monk seal they helped rescue. Kanani is excited to write about the sighting in her journal, but she finds it under Rachel's pillow (the girls are sharing a room). Why would Rachel take something so private? And she's used it as her own! Of course, it's soon cleared up as mistaken identity: the cousins' grandmother sent the girls the same journal, and Kanani accidentally read some bits of Rachel's. Bits like Rachel worrying that her mother and stepfather won't want her around now that they're married and that Rachel has been crying herself to sleep, quietly so as not to wake Kanani. But it turns out to be for the best: Kanani tells Rachel how she accidentally read some of her journal, and Rachel opens up about how overwhelming and scary the changes are, and the girls bond. 

On Rachel's last night, there's a surprise going-away party. The two cousins have fun and stay up late talking. They promise to keep in touch better, and even plan ahead that maybe Kanani can visit Rachel in New York. Back at home, Rachel soon writes to Kanani asking about the monk seals. Kanani replies that she's going to raise money to help the endangered animals. 

Real Girls, Real Stories

Meimei N. does hands-on work with Hawaii's green sea turtles to help biologists track their health. Nicole H. of Wyoming raised money to get power lines installed underground instead of overhead, where they were trapping and killing trumpeter swans. Nichole S. of Ohio nursed an injured fawn back to health, and was later rewarded when the healed deer came back to visit--with twins! Brook B. founded Ohio's Heroes of Animals and influenced an older man to will his property to an over-crowded pet shelter--but not so crowded now since she's helped more than fifty dogs find homes. Vanja G. works with Virginia animal shelters to help cats be adopted.


Dedicated to "Nicole and Jordan." Special thanks to "Peter Apo and Maile Meyer for their insights and knowledge of the Hawaiian culture, and to Sue Kanohoof the Kaua'i Visitors Bureau for her gracious hospitality. Mahalo to the Kaua'i Monk Seal Watch Program: to Ronalee Eckberg and Denise Jones; to Donna Lee and Millie Johnson, who showed me around the island; plus a special shout-out to Tim Robinson for his invaluable information about the Hawaiian monk seal and the island of Kaua'i." And "with special thanks to Puakea Nogelmeier for his guidance on the Hawaiian language, and to the National Wildlife Federation for advocating on behalf of endangered species."

And we're back to third person narration.

Rachel has a necklace that her stepfather gave her when her mother re-married. One of my friends got married a few years ago and after they exchanged vows, her husband gave her daughter a necklace with three hearts on it to symbolize their new family (the daughter's father is dead, so my friend's husband wasn't shutting anyone out or anything like that).

Kanani's family owns a shave ice and candy store. They add a new flavor in honor of Rachel: Rachel's Big Apple.

There were a few parts when I got annoyed with the adults in the story. They seemed to be pushing Kanani to always be showing Rachel this or that when Kanani explained that Rachel wanted some time alone. I love my alone time, and would be very annoyed if I couldn't get any of it for a month.

I actually moved to Honolulu a few weeks ago (my husband got a new job). I've yet to see a monk seal in the wild, but the aquarium has some. They're HUGE. I thought they'd be harbor-seal-sized, but they're almost as big as sea lions. Also, shave ice is really good for nineteen-month-olds who cut their lips and need something cold. Bonus points if you get strawberry so the blood doesn't show.

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