Review: Finding Moana by James Halemanu

★★★★ Finding Moana by James Halemanu

Moana is a 13-year-old Hawai’ian orphan from Kau’i. He is an outcast, with his wild hair and ways, but now must survive an attack on his village by cannibal snake zombies and their evil queen! If that doesn’t sound amazing, maybe a rescue party of cave-dwelling beings who teach Moana magical skills, or a time-traveling island and a couple of rather bizarre animal companions might just intrigue readers looking for something completely different.

Will Moana find out what really happened to his parents? What dark and mysterious feelings will he have to overcome to find out the truth about the island? An Hawai’ian and Sumerian themed horror adventure awaits Moana, as he will make choices about his heritage, and how he will find out what bravery really is.

To be clear, this book has no connection to the Disney movie, Moana is a boy who likes to get very involved with the sea, sand, and magic around him, and YA fans will find this story dark and more geared towards older themes, such as coming of age, discovery of self, and choosing between instinct and what’s right: the kinds of moral dilemmas most young people face growing up with a less than desirable family history. There is no saccharine sweetness to this YA novel, which very much works in its favor.

Despite the book’s mega-fantasy background, the story focuses on the hardship a young hero like Moana faces: he must find himself within a tangle of difficult and dangerous pasts, represented by the weird beasts and beings he encounters. They turn into almost fable-style spirit creatures, representing important decisions and moods on his journey. Author Halemanu has carved a very interesting universe for any YA reader to inhabit.

There are a few minor issues, but none that have to do with story, which is really of the most paramount importance. Formatting is hampered with some odd image choices that undermine the writing: this book would have stood firm without the stock photo additions. The book cover image and font are indistinct as well. Readers of this genre are choosy, and will judge a book by its cover. Maybe in later editions the author will deal with this to give the writing the presentation it deserves.

That aside, once reading begins, these issues are really nothing. Finding Moana is action-packed from page one, and is full of humor and excitement, with local color throughout that will thrill YA readers everywhere, while giving an education on Hawai’ian culture and history. It’s full of intense and high-impact encounters, and Moana is a strong and worthy hero for the story, and his oddball companions will amuse and entertain. Magical encounters are fully realized, and those looking for a twist on something like “LOST” meets Ender Wiggin may have found their new best book right here. A sequel is on the way, so it’s inviting to cheer for Moana knowing there’s more in store for this original and fun series.

Author Site

Finding Moana

Star Rating