'Juniors' by Kaui Hart Hemmings

The Fiction Addiction

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Juniors(novel cover art from the publisher)

In Juniors, by Kaui Hart Hemmings, teenage Lea finds herself on Oahu when her actress mother lands a new role. Lea’s moved around so much that she’s not really uprooted from anywhere, but settling into a new high school, reconnecting with a childhood friend, and their semi-guest status in the “guest cottage” put a strain on her. Lea and her mother are invited to live in the wealthy West’s spare guest cottage, so Lea’s suddenly sharing space with two of high school’s popular crowd, Whitney and Will West.

Lea’s mother and Melanie West have a complicated relationship — at times, Melanie treats her like a servant and at other times, she’s an actress celeb. This was great, because you could really see Lea watching that relationship unfold, and discovering that her mother is not just Mom, but a full, complex person, with her own goals and needs.

Since it’s set on Hawaii, there’s a lot of surfing on beautiful beaches, and everyone’s wearing their bathing suit for basically the whole book. Juniors introduces the hidden beaches on Oahu, and the layered social classes behind the touristy photo ops.

The Wests are the sort of connected, upper-class Hawaiians that Hemmings wrote about in The Descendants. Daughter Whitney came close to being a poor little rich girl, with her shopping, barely-concealed drinking, and boys, but eventually her unique character came through, as she and Lea became friends of more than just convenience. And Will, well, I couldn’t help screaming at Lea to stop fooling around with someone who was clearly staying with his girlfriend, but I’m not seventeen anymore.

One of the final scenes in Juniors is a heavy-handed callback to the opening scene, which I thought was unnecessary and a little forced. But outside of that misstep, this is a great novel about high school identity, female friendships, and mother-daughter relationships.

For more great Hawaiian fiction, check out our list of the best novels set in Hawaii.

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