A Place in the Middle

"HO'ONANI HULA WARRIOR" - KIRKUS BOOK REVIEW

KIRKUS REVIEW

Ho'onani Hula Warrior, published by Penguin Random House 

In this picture book based on a true story, a nonbinary youth finds her place as a hula warrior.

Hoʻonani Kamai doesn’t identify with either wahine (girl) or kāne (boy); “she prefer[s] just Hoʻonani.” (Feminine pronouns refer to Hoʻonani throughout.) One day, her teacher Kumu Hina announces auditions for a traditional hula chant the high school kāne will perform. With Kumu Hina’s encouragement, Hoʻonani auditions despite the shock of the kāne. After passing the test, she practices “until Hawai‘i’s history [becomes] a part of her.” Practice pays off, as her chant’s strength and power gain her true acceptance as their leader. Kumu Hina warns that people may get upset that a wahine is leading, but Hoʻonani faces the performance with courage. Through every challenge and doubt, Hoʻonani “[holds] her place. Strong, sure, and steady.” Her strength and bravery lead her to find her place as a hula warrior. Based on the documentary A Place in the Middle, this story brings to light the Hawaiian tradition of valuing those who are māhū, or nonbinary. Teacher and activist Kumu Hina creates a place of safety and acceptance, encouraging her students to treat others with respect. Hoʻonani’s courage to be true to herself and her place in the middle is empowering. Hawaiian words are intermixed, and Song’s illustrations are full of emotion and determination.

Hoʻonani deserves a place on any shelf.

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