Local Book Review 16 Things to Know

Local: 16 Things to Know

16 Things Book Review Non-Fiction Book Review

A young woman coming of age in Hawaii grapples with identity, family bonds, and the complexity of Hawaii’s past in this book that is part-memoir, part-mythology, and part-history lesson.

Local Book Review BOOK COVER Local

Jessica Machado


Consider Local for these online reading challenge tasks:

5 figures in Local

  1. Jessica Machado: Jessica grows up in Hawaii during the 1990s, experiencing the tumult of youthful rebellion against her parents as well as a desire to fit in and lean away from her Hawaiian heritage.
  2. Sarah Machado: Jessica’s mother is a transplant to Hawaii from the American South; her gentility and desire to keep up appearances puts her at odds with Jessica’s drive to live authentically.
  3. Butch Machado: Representing Jessica’s native Hawaiian heritage, her father is a dichotomous figure in her life—sometimes present, sometimes distant; at times, disruptive, others, supportive.
  4. Ed: Following her parents’ divorce, Sarah marries Ed, whose militaristic and authoritarian style conflicts with Jessica’s desire for individuality.
  5. Shellee Machado: Jessica grows close to her step-mother, who offers a safe haven and maternal comfort for Jessica during times of conflict with Sarah.

4 settings

  1. Makakilo, Hawaii: Jessica grows up in an upper middle-class suburb of Hawaii that offers her the opportunity to safely branch out and challenge her parents’ expectations.
  2. Los Angeles: Jessica moves to Los Angeles to pursue a career in media and distance herself from her past.
  3. Temecula: After Sarah’s cancer diagnosis, Ed initiates a move to California so Jessica can provide him respite while she spends final moments with Sarah.
  4. Kalihi Valley, Hawaii: Feeling adrift in California after the death of her mother and betrayal of the men in her life, Jessica returns to her father’s family home in Hawaii.

3 events

  1. Jessica’s parents divorce: Jessica’s early memories are of her father’s absence and her mother’s depression after his infidelity.
  2. Jessica moves to Los Angeles: Although she seeks to distance herself from Hawaii, she ends up becoming close to several other Hawaiian young adults who become her roommates.
  3. Jessica’s mother passes away: The pain at slowly losing her mother manifests itself as resentment of her mother’s needs at the end of her life.

2 conflicts

  1. Jessica vs. her mother: In Jessica’s view, Sarah lives an inauthentic life dependent on men and society for validation. She wants to live differently from her mother and judgment of her mother’s choices creates physical and emotional distance between them.
  2. Jessica vs. her identity: Jessica’s focus on being a “normal” teenager and fitting in with
    “typical” norms and values associated with American society get in the way of her learning about and embracing her Hawaiian heritage until she becomes older and more secure in her self.

1 big idea

  1. You can’t outrun the past, whether personal or generational. Understanding and making peace with your past is the best way to move forward into your future.

A reader’s thoughts on Local

My rating: 2/5

When I began reading Local, I was immediately struck by similarities between myself and the author. We seem to be about the same age, we tended to gravitate toward the same teenage activities (mostly centering around seeking out music our parents hated), and our young adult lives were focused more on finding fun than facing the future.

Perhaps that’s one of the reasons I didn’t love this memoir. It was well-written and the author didn’t shy away from exposing both the highs and lows of her life. However, much of the book felt like assignments by a novice writer taking a community college class on how to write your own memoir. What I would consider commonplace teenage-angst situations were stylistically treated as moments of enormous meaning and value, yet the narrative payoff from these seemingly momentous times were generally lacking.

I acknowledge this perception could be my own bias speaking—my experiences that were like hers were not significant, therefore maybe hers weren’t either—but I wonder if narrowing focus to fewer, more consequential events in her life and exploring how those events changed her and her life’s path would have felt more fulfilling.

One unusual aspect of Local was its focus on shedding light on Hawaii’s complex history. Local was a memoir of Hawaii as much as it was a memoir of a Hawaiian. I felt the author was drawing contrasts and similarities between her individuation and Hawaii’s. While I didn’t think this was completely successful, I did appreciate learning more of the history of the region and its people, cultures, and traditions.

Machado’s emphasis on what it means to be Hawaiian—and in contrast, what it means to be not Hawaiian—reminded me of Volcanoes, Palm Trees, And Privilege: Essays On Hawaii. In that book, the author also finds a connection to Hawaiian history and heritage, but as a frequent visitor, an outsider trying to make Hawaii her home. The two books present an interesting view of belonging and other-ness within the same community.

Excerpts from Local.