February 10, 2012

Telesa- The Covenant Keeper, by Lani Wendt Young

I'm sure you've read Twilight, so let's slip back into that world for a moment. Back to the first time you read it, before the very word "vampire" made you roll your eyes and sigh. Oh, it doesn't do that to you? Well it does to me, especially as I follow Pixel of Ink, where every other book is either paranormal YA or features simpering Amish maidens.

Now imagine that it wasn't Edward with the special powers, but Bella. And Bella isn't as annoying, doesn't snarl as often or stick her nose up at everything and everyone around her. And instead of a dark forest in the Pacific Northwest, they're in the tropical paradise of Samoa, with muscular tattooed rugby players and exotic beauties and a conflicting mixture of devout religious observation and violence.

Leila is the daughter of an American Peace Corps volunteer and a beautiful Samoan native. But after her mother is reportedly killed in a hurricane, her father brings her to live with his wealthy mother on the East coast. As a biracial teen Leila has a hard time fitting in, especially in the posh all-girl schools her grandmother insists upon. When her father dies suddenly, his last wish is that Leila will never attempt to return to Samoa. This request seems so nonsensical and mysterious that Leila becomes even more curious about her Samoan heritage and decides to visit.

Upon reaching the land of her birth, Leila is surprised by the cold welcome she receives from her remaining family there, but is determined to prove that not all American teenagers are wild, and also to find out about her mother. She enrolls in school and is unfailingly obedient and mannerly. One day a frighteningly beautiful woman arrives claiming to be Leila's mother. Leila's aunt tells her the woman is "Telesa," a sort of elemental goddess of Polynesian lore. It sounds crazy, but when kissing a local rugby star causes her to burst into flame, Leila must face the idea that there's more to the myths -and to her mother- than most people realize.

What makes this book stand out is the Polynesian element. The islands of the Pacific have long held a romantic appeal for millions. This book takes the reader away from the chain hotels and tourist traps into the real Samoa, a proud and beautiful culture. The author is herself from Samoa, and teaches there, and has seen how little is out there in pop culture that Polynesian youth can relate to. She did an outstanding job. In any other setting this book would be just another of hundreds of Twilight fan fiction novels, but Young made it her own. Her love for the people and culture of Samoa really shines through.

According to this review / interview, Young has been in touch with people in the film industry. If they do translate this book into film, I hope Samoa is prepared for the influx of rabid women that will descend upon it!

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