"Tropica," by Tony Clapes and illustrated by Yishan Li (Bess Press, $12.95)
Clapes, a Honolulu tech-head and lawyer, has cobbled together a thinly disguised "alternate reality" meditation on Hawaii’s future, and he finds it wanting because kids aren’t into studying science and technology, and the people in charge would prefer that Hawaii’s citizens be uneducated and undemanding. Sorry, make that Tropica’s citizens.
This is tough talk, and Clapes likely is right on the mark here. He sets out many check-off lists and agendas for Hawaii’s young people to follow.
Will they? The format of this manifesto is that of a manga novel, built around a pretty weak dramatic conceit: A Daddy Warbucks type empowers tech-head teens with flying belts and invisibility so they can embarrass corporate and government fat cats. Their solution is apparently to get politicians to sign a pledge not to screw over their constituents, which made me laugh, and not in the right place.
Clapes is an bright-idea man, but he’s not yet a manga writer. There is virtually no characterization or dramatic imagination at work here. Li’s artwork, on the other hand, often makes up for the story’s holes.
Kids and adults, upon reading "Tropica," should have a spirited discussion afterward about the ideas expressed. They won’t have anything to discuss about the format, alas.
"Hamakua Hero: A True Plantation Story," by Patsy Y. Iwasaki and illustrated by Berido (Bess Press, $12.95)
Bess Press is moving into manga in a big way, and that’s an exciting development for this major Honolulu publisher. This is a modified reprint of a fascinating Japanese title about a fellow named Katsu Goto, an immigrant to the sugar plantations in the late 1800s. Goto, who worked off his labor commitment and opened a general store, was apparently a go-to guy for other immigrants needing redress from plantation owners.
This rubbed the lunas the wrong way, and in a move that smelled of Klanism, Goto was beaten to death and then lynched. The four men convicted of the murder were given light sentences. The word was out, however, and Japanese immigrants to the islands began to use the legal system to stick up for themselves.
This is a nasty, little-known chapter in Hawaii labor history, and Iwasaki brings it to light. One of the endemic problems with manga, however, is that the drawings often are too cute for such a horrific, serious story. That’s pretty much the case here.
"A Reasonable Person," by Walter Davis (AuthorHouse, $14.49)
Many, when they retire, decide to summarize their knowledge in a faintly fictional "novel" that takes advantage of their life experiences. Good. Write what you know. Davis, a well-known insurance litigator in Honolulu, clearly has drawn upon his own career to write "A Reasonable Person," not surprisingly, a tale of an insurance litigator in Honolulu.
The title comes from the legal premise that a "reasonable" person would have done this or that to prevent or forestall an accident that may have financial consequences for the lawyer’s corporate client. Also not surprisingly, corporate lawyers’ general reaction to a new case, particularly a gruesome one, is to exclaim, "Oh, that’s terrible. How can we minimize the financial damage to our client? Can we prove they took reasonable precautions?"
The novel’s protagonist, Mark Dorsey, deals with an unending stream of litigation, and Davis has attempted to up the dramatic ante by throwing in an affair and a legal partner who’s cracking up. Neither, however, feels true, and the insurance cases — many of which are fascinating and familiar to Honolulans — never blossom into anything resembling a plot development.
A novel needs a dramatic arc, and this is more of a straight line from beginning to end, as Dorsey dispatches cases right and left, snicker-snack. Also no surprise: They are all dealt with by lawyerly negotiation.
The effect of "A Reasonable Person" is that we appreciate the grinding, unending negotiations lawyers deal with every day and take home nights and weekends, but we wind up not caring much about the thinly sketched characters. Davis has a clear, unambiguous writing style, but he needed an editor to take care of the book’s typographical problems and perhaps negotiate a meatier dramatic arc.
"Abby Wize: AWA," by Lisa Bradley (AuthorHouse, $19.99)
Abby is an adolescent girl with a mean mother. Abby loves horses. She wants to know all about horse-handling — maybe because her mother can’t be handled — although the traditional methods of horse-wrangling seem crude and ineffectual. As Abby begins to learn about "horse-whispering," she’s thrown from the saddle and wakes up in the future.
Up to this point, "Abby Wize" is a pretty typical youngsters’ novel, with the ground rules for learning and potential dramatic redemption clearly set. But the time-slip twist throws Abby into a lovely future in which the Bahai faith has taken over and everything is unbearably wonderful, thanks to the teachings of Baha’u’llah.
This is a world with no conflict, and no potential for conflict. Alas, for the novel’s structure, that means the story line and dramatic resolution have been thrown out in favor of excited proselytizing, and it never really recovers.
Hawaii resident Bradley is clearly a true believer and wants to share both her religious beliefs and love of horses. She has a talent for communicating both. In this case, however, her passions wind up obscuring the novel’s potential.