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Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The Islands at the End of the World Blog Tour {Review & Author Interview}

I'm stoked to have The Islands at the End of the World Blog Tour stopping by today with my Review and Interview with author Austin Aslan...

The Islands at the End of the World
by Austin Aslan
Wendy Lamb Books

Right before my eyes, my beautiful islands are changing forever. And so am I...

Sixteen-year-old Leilani loves surfing and her home in Hilo, on the Big Island of Hawaii. But she's an outsider - half white, half Hawaiian, and an epileptic.

While Lei and her father are on a visit to Oahu, a global disaster strikes. Technology and power fail, Hawaii is cut off from the world, and the islands revert to traditional ways of survival. As Lei and her dad embark on a nightmarish journey across islands to reach home and family, she learns that her epilepsy and her deep connection to Hawaii could be keys to ending the crisis before it becomes worse than anyone can imagine.

A powerful story enriched by fascinating elements of Hawaiian ecology, culture, and warfare, this captivating and dramatic debut from Austin Aslan is the first of two novels. The author has a master’s degree in tropical conservation biology from the University of Hawaii at Hilo.

There are so many end-of-the-world-post-apocalyptic-of-hell-the-world-has-gone-crazy books in YA and, while Austin Aslan’s The Islands at the End of the World doesn’t bring anything earth shatteringly new to the genre, it does offer a thrilling and unique story.

Leilani lives on the Big Island of Hawaii, but she and her dad travel to Oahu, where she will undergo tests for her epilepsy. While in Oahu, a mysterious light appears in the night sky and the world’s electronics fail. Cut off from the world, with a dwindling food supply and rampant fear, the islands of Hawaii descend into martial law and madness. Leilani and her dad begin a perilous journey back home, uncovering startling revelations along the way.

The Islands at the End of the World is an intense, completely addicting read with an immersive setting, frighteningly plausible plot, and refreshing twists. The idea of electronics failing worldwide, causing mayhem and destruction, is nothing new, but when combined with the lush Hawaiian setting and rich lore, the premise becomes exciting and new again. The Islands at the End of the World isn’t explosive or in your face, instead its intense atmosphere and twisty plot unravel slowly and realistically. We are given a chance to really get to know our heroine and the Hawaii she loves. And Aslan beautifully lays out this paradise world. Everything about Hawaii, from its ecological make-up, culture, people, myths, and lore, is deftly explored. The chaotic post-apocalyptic world Leilani finds herself in never feels forced or outlandish. I love that Aslan chose to set his book in this rarely used setting, as its isolation and difficult terrain make for such a thrilling, full of possibilities landscape.

I really enjoyed getting to know Leilani and her father and journeying with them as they desperately try to get home to their family. I love how very average and believable these two are. They definitely have their talents and skills, but for the most part, they are just two everyday people who find themselves in an impossible situation and must do things they never thought themselves capable of. Like me, readers will easily relate to these two, and many of the people they meet along the way, and become greatly invested in their story.

Leilani and her father’s journey home is often startling and addictively dark, full of violence, death, wonder, and hope. Aslan sprinkles some truly heart-pounding and breathtaking moments throughout The Islands at the End of the World that had me on the edge of my seat, furiously turning pages. And I totally didn’t see some pretty epic and fascinating twists that Aslan throws at readers!

My Final Thoughts: The Islands at the End of the World is an entertaining and often thought-provoking read, with a captivating and impressively crafted setting; intriguing plot; and well-written characters. I greatly enjoyed book one and excitedly await book two!


What three words best describe The Islands at the End of the World?

Love. Home. Belonging.

Grab a copy of The Islands at the End of the World and answer the following:

favorite chapter?  

Chapter 20. Lei and her father have just made it to a new island. They have a moment to catch their breath, and they make an unexpected friend.

favorite page?

This is definitely a tie between page 234 and 274. The first involves a wonderful interaction between Lei and her dad, in which they’re using Hawaiian imagery to discuss a great mystery of the universe that later ties in with unfolding events. I love that scene to death. The second describes a big “ah-ha” moment for Leilani. Hopefully it’ll come as a nice surprise for the reader, too! It was very satisfying to write after so many months of slowly, patiently building toward it. I’m so thrilled with how it all came together.

favorite setting or place?

I think readers will largely agree that setting plays a huge, pivotal role in this novel. The Hawaiian Islands are as much a character in this story as Lei and her dad. The book oozes setting. Its sense of place grips you and suffocates you on every single page. It’s really hard to pinpoint one particular “place” above all the others. Personally, I found the scenes on Moloka`i and atop Mauna Kea volcano among the most powerful and satisfying to write.

flip to a random page and give us a 1-2 sentence teaser:

All right. Truly random page flip. Here you go, from Lei’s time stuck in a “refugee camp” on O`ahu:

“We often hear gunfire across the bay. Single shots or short bursts. I think of that man’s head bursting open against the white sail. As miserable as we are in camp, the fence that surrounds us keeps the madness at bay.
Sunday and Monday come and go. Two weeks since we last talked to Mom and Kai. It feels surreal—and painful. I’m angry all the time. Or sad. Or numb. I never just feel normal anymore.”

What inspired The Islands at the End of the World? How did the story come to be?

I lived in Hilo (pronounced HEE-lo), on the Big Island, when I was getting my Masters degree in Tropical Conservation Biology. My field sites were high up on the forested slopes of Mauna Loa Volcano. I was coming home from a rainy day of doing pollination experiments with rare Hawaiian flowers and I drove down through the clouds and suddenly had a great, clear view of the ocean surrounding the island. I was struck by how alone and isolated the Hawaiian Islands are. The idea popped into my head that it would be really interesting to set a post-apocalyptic story on the isolated Hawaiian Islands. I thought to myself, “Everybody knows what happens at the end of the world in New York and LA, but what would a global disaster mean for Islanders?” Ninety-five percent of Hawaii’s food is imported every day. The islands are home to 1.5 million people. If things got tough there, what would they eat? Where would they flee? Once those questions were burrowed into my head, the story and characters just started flowing out of me like lava!

Can you tell us a bit about your heroine, Leilani? What makes her special and unique among other YA heroines?

Leilani was such a miraculous surprise for me. I had no idea I could write someone like her. My “model” for her—my own daughter—was only seven years old at the time I wrote the novel. I did my best to project forward into her teenage years as I wrote. It seems to have worked out fairly well! Leilani is so awesome because she’s every bit as strong as Katniss Everdeen but she’s so much more. She operates in the real world, and her challenges are the kind that any one of us could face on a bad day. Her courage and her wits are exceptional, and she’s constantly saving her father rather than the other way around. She’s mixed race (half white, half Hawaiian), which presents its own set of hardships in our confusing world, especially in the context of a scenario in which society is unraveling at the seams! Leilani also suffers from epilepsy. Lei isn’t intended to be cool or special because she has a disability, or because she’s able to navigate a terrifying world in spite of her setbacks. She’s not inspirational or pitiable because of her disability. It’s just a part of her that she struggles with and manages, at times, to accept. It’s who she is.

Now, there are fantastical elements to this story. Lei finds herself in a position to make a big difference in the world. But she’s no “Chosen One.” I hope that’s sufficiently conveyed in the text. The abilities that she finds she has are not unique to her. She just happens to be in the right place at the right time to seize the moment and the initiative. Her successes and her failures are completely hers to choose. I don’t believe that she operates under any mandate of destiny, as occurs in so many fantasy and science-fiction stories, so, yeah, ironically, this is another big thing that makes Leilani special and unique.

And one last thing, since we’re on the subject. I’m very hopeful that readers will find Lei a very refreshing departure from the star-crossed girl who is inexplicably caught up in romantic engagements even though everyone has bigger problems at the moment. This book doesn’t have any love triangles. Lei is a sixteen-year-old girl who occasionally crosses paths with interesting guys, but the “love” in this story (remember question #1) has nothing to do with romance. It’s about family. It’s about her father. Something I hope most readers can connect with in a very real and visceral way.

There are several Hawaiian myths and stories explored in The Islands at the End of the you have a favorite?

I do. My favorite Hawaiian myth is the one that explains the sequential creation of each island in terms of Pele’s effort to flee her jealous sisters. The Hawaiian Islands were formed by volcanic activity. As the earth’s tectonic plates shifted over the top of a fixed “hot spot” deeper down in the planet’s core, magma punched through the crust and formed mounds that eventually poked above the ocean surface and became islands. Each island down the chain is younger than the previous, so that Kaua`i, for example, is much older and more eroded than O`ahu, and so on down the chain. The Big Island is the youngest island, has the least erosion, and still has active volcanic activity even today. It’s still growing! Pele’s story follows this pattern perfectly. She first arrived on the northwestern-most islands, punched her o`o, her shovel, into the ground, and attempted to set up a home. But each time she did this, her jealous sister would fling the sea at her and snuff out her volcanic home and she would have to flee to a new island to start over. It’s a great creation story that mirrors our scientific understanding of the islands’ origins very well, and it’s also a great symbol for Leilani’s struggle to get home and to feel that she belongs.

Can you tell us any tidbits about what’s to come in book two?!

Cool question! I’m very excited about book two, THE GIRL AT THE CENTER OF THE WORLD. It’s different from book one in a number of crucial ways. The difficult geography of Hawai`i, the sense of separation, the urgency to get home—these are all powerful, compelling story elements that come together to make ISLANDS wholly unique. Developing a fresh, exciting sequel to such a singular story was quite a challenge. With GIRL, I wasn’t interested in trying to repeat the feel of ISLANDS out of some unspoken sense of obligation to match what I had already done. I wanted to engage in a new kind of storytelling and a new set of scenarios. The important thing is that I returned to the characters! I think I hit just the right mix of old and new with GIRL. I guess I’ll reveal that book two is even more fantastical, in certain ways, than book one, but I don’t want to say too much more. It’s hard to talk about GIRL without spoiling the end of ISLANDS! I’ll just mention that Lei has to figure out what to do with the strange new abilities she’s developed. She has to adjust to a broken world and a new way of life. She does finally find romance, although grudgingly, as her situation remains very serious. She has some very difficult choices to make. As a teenage girl going though immense changes, Leilani isn’t just a girl at the center of the world in a figurative sense, mind you. She becomes the focus of global attention and that sort of responsibility comes with a great deal of peril and it attracts a number of really nasty enemies.

And then, just to be an impossible tease: O.M.G.!!! Wait until you see the cover for GIRL! It. Is. Absolutely. Stunning. But I’m getting a year ahead of myself, aren’t I? That artwork is still in a preliminary stage, and isn’t ready for show and tell, yet. Let’s get back to ISLANDS, now, shall we?

Your characters must rely on and develop new skills to survive in a drastically new world...what do you think are the three most vital skills one must have to survive in this world?

At the end of the day, I think those who survive the culling in a world that’s falling apart will do three things better than their less fortunate neighbors: 1) They make and keep friends and allies; 2) They know how to grow food; 3) They’re not afraid to get dirty. And, yes, I mean that last one on a number of different levels.

Leilani and her dad are fans of nerdy/cult-classic movies and often quote them...what, according to you, are the top three movies every person needs to see?

Oh, my gosh. Tough question. I’ll tell you that my two most favorite movies of all time are the original Muppet Movie (I cry every time I watch it), and Terry Gilliam’s bizarre but irresistible masterpiece, Brazil. I’ll throw The Big Lebowski into the mix, too. Everyone should have the experience of laughing that hard for two hours straight. No other comedy has ever even come close to being that funny.

Fill in the blanks:
I’m really awesome at lucid dreaming.

I’m really embarrassed to admit I love downing an entire box of Kraft Mac and Cheese for lunch and sometimes I’ll hide it from my kids so I don’t have to share.

The last great book I read was Cloud Atlas

If you were to create and bake a cupcake inspired by The Islands at the End of the World, what would it look and taste like, and what would you call it?

This is so funny. Because I’ve already done this. For the official ISLANDS book launch at the amazing Changing Hands Bookstore in Tempe, AZ, the event coordinator and I commissioned a local baker to design cookies that looked like zombie hula dancers. I have no idea why this was so funny for both of us. The book has no zombies in it. But there you go. And they tasted like brains.

Thank you so much for stopping by today, Austin!

Austin Aslan was inspired to write his debut novel, The Islands at the End of the World, while living on the Big Island of Hawaii. He earned a master’s degree in tropical conservation biology at the University of Hawaii at Hilo. His research on rare Hawaiian plants located on the high slopes of Mauna Loa won him a pair of destroyed hiking boots, a tattered rain jacket, and a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship. He lives outside Tucson, Arizona, deep in the Sonoran Desert, where he pets scorpions and hugs saguaro cacti with his high-school-sweetheart wife and their two young children. Austin is pursuing a PhD in geography at the University of Arizona and thinking up new stories while conducting ecosystem resilience research atop the Peruvian Andes. He continues to write fiction and looks forward to the publication of his "Islands at the End" sequel, "The Girl at the Center of the World" in the fall of 2015.


Anonymous said...

Aeicha, thanks so much for your thoughtful review and for allowing me to stop here during the ISLANDS blog tour! Great blog you've got going. It makes me hungry for dessert every time I pop in. Dessert = books? Hmm. Sounds about right!

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