BookBrowse Reviews The Lion in the Lei Shop by Kaye Starbird

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The Lion in the Lei Shop

by Kaye Starbird

The Lion in the Lei Shop by Kaye Starbird
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  • First Published:
    Jun 2013, 276 pages
    Paperback:
    May 2013, 292 pages

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Originally published in 1970 and reissued for a new generation of readers as part of renowned librarian Nancy Pearl's Book Lust Rediscoveries series, The Lion in the Lei Shop gives a rarely heard voice to the women and children of Pearl Harbor.

The Lion in the Lei Shop by Kaye Starbird is a hit with BookBrowse readers. All 18 reviewers gave it 4 or 5 stars! They have much praise for this book that was first published in 1970:

This novel is one of a group of out-of-print books selected for reprinting by NPR's Nancy Pearl. April and her 5-year-old daughter Marty are living in Hawaii with April's soldier husband Lang on December 7, 1941 when Pearl Harbor is bombed. Lang is pulled away to military duties, while his wife and daughter are moved around the island for their safety and then shipped home. The Lion in the Lei Shop, told in the voices of April and Marty, retells the events of the bombing and the war years spent in April's native New England. Author Kaye Starbird does a beautiful job of contrasting the memories of events held by April and Marty, and of highlighting the nature of memory itself. She also portrays the pain and uncertainty faced by families with a member at war with great compassion and understanding (Laura P). As those who bore witness to Pearl Harbor die off, a book like this becomes even more important. It has fortuitously been reissued so that the memories of this time will not be lost. Beautifully written, it elucidates the tragic effects of the attack on a mother and her young child, and its future repercussions on them both (Mary Ellen B). The book is a beautifully written account of a mother and daughter who learn to survive without their husband/father who is left behind to serve his country (Cam G). A wonderful novel of memory, hope, loss of hope and endurance that gives the reader a new perspective on human tenacity (Claire M).

At its heart, this book is an exploration of the relationship between mothers and daughters:

This is a story of mothers and daughters, their hopes and fears and the devastation of war (Jeanette L). The author's use of an alternating narrative between the mother and her young daughter is an interesting way of showing how a young child's understanding and reaction to a life changing event, in this case the attack on Pearl Harbor, may be very different than an adult's. A very well written book (Joe S). I had not really thought much about the effects of the [Pearl Harbor] attack other than the military disaster and loss and I very much appreciated the presentation of the viewpoints of both mother and daughter and the lingering effects of the war on the family (Judith W).

The Lion in the Lei Shop is not your usual war book:

Most history books deal with the effects on the soldiers, more so than on their families, making this novel different in that regard…Marty, of course, does not understand what is happening and why her father is no longer coming home; and April is devastated to find herself alone without him, with no way to know how long he will be gone and when or if he will even return. How much better to be able to count the days, so there is a light at the end of the tunnel, but you can't count infinity. Their experiences through each of their eyes add up to a thought-provoking read, well-written and ageless in its presentation (Arden A). Marty is haunted by what a bully had told her about a man-eating lion in the lei shop near her former home. The book covers ground not often dealt with; it's vibrant and fascinating. It's the best book of fiction I've read yet this year (Rosemary K). This is a story about memories, childhood fears, and the different ways people cope with the same event. It speaks of women and their friendships, mothers and their children, and how life goes on with humor, tears, and love (Maggie S). I've always enjoyed a good home front story, and this had a neat twist to it that makes it easy to understand why Nancy Pearl chose this as a "rediscovered treasure" (Linda P).

Who would like this novel?

Surprisingly funny at times, the book is a page-turner that illustrates the frightening, monotonous, and challenging years of the home front. Don't miss it if you enjoy women's fiction (Toni B). I enjoyed the two viewpoints from the five-year-old daughter, and her mother. The difference in age gives such different responses to any event. It was nice to have an older book brought back to the present. I am sure those who read it when it was originally published had different feelings then those of us who are reading it now. A good read for a book club (Donna N). This would be a good young adult book selection for this period of history. Book clubs would find this an interesting read to compare to internment reads…I truly enjoyed this because it showed Americans, in Hawaii, displaced due safety reasons; a concept that I never heard mentioned in the history and stories of the Pearl Harbor aftermath (Elaine M). I asked for this because I live in Hawai'i and have a daily reminder of THE WAR... While reading this book I felt a close connection with the characters, and enjoyed the description of spots on this island. The Waianae coast must have been beautiful in the 40s. Anyone interested in the history of 'a day of infamy' from a different perspective should enjoy this book (Judith G).

This review is from the July 10, 2013 issue of BookBrowse Recommends. Click here to go to this issue.



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