Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Island Song by Alan Chin

Reviewed by Josh Aterovis

It's been two years since the death of Garrett Davidson's lover, but for Garrett, the pain is still just as fresh as if it had been only yesterday. His pain is so overwhelming he feels he won't be able to move on until he's exorcised his lost lover from his life. He'll do that by keeping his promise to write their story.

Garrett quits his successful job in San Francisco, packs up, and indefinitely rents a secluded beach house in a small Hawaiian town. The house comes with its own caretaker, a handsome young islander named Songoree.

Songoree's grandfather is the local shaman, a revered and feared figure in the village. He's been training Song to take over for him, teaching him to carry on his vision of a world living in peace instead of war. Grandfather is convinced that Garrett is the Chosen One he has been promised, but Song isn't so sure. Still, there's something about the man that intrigues Songoree.

Much to his surprise, Garrett is finding himself attracted to Songoree as well. As the two face their growing attraction, they must also face the disapproval of the conservative islanders, as well the expectations of Song's grandfather.

Island Song is a beautiful novel. Technically, this book would probably be categorized as a romance novel, but it's really so much more. Island Song is about loss, healing, finding love in unexpected places, leaving the world a better place when we're gone... and the sacrifices we sometimes have to make to achieve that.

First-time-author Alan Chin writes characters that are richly drawn. Garrett's pain is revealed slowly through flashbacks and dreams. He's a broken man haunted by the love of his life, but he has to let go in order to move on. Songoree is a sensitive, sweet soul. While he doesn't quite fit in with his rough-and-tumble surfer buddies, he's accepted as one of the gang as long as he sticks to the straight and narrow.

Even the secondary characters are vivid: Grandfather, Audrey, Mother Kamamalu, Hap. Each stands on their own as fully realized personalities, adding depth and dimension to an already strong story. Just as important as the human characters is the island upon which the story is set, Hawaii. While Chin does a fantastic job of recreating the lush, exotic feel of the island, he goes beyond a mere travelogue and really captures the spirit of the island.

The book is written in the present tense, an unusual approach these days. It took me a while to get into the rhythm, but once I did, the style really works. It creates a sense of urgency and immediacy that serves the story well. I was completely enchanted by this novel, and I look forward to more from Alan Chin.

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