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Blu's Hanging

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On the Hawaiian island of Molokai, life goes on for the three young Ogata children after the death of their mother and subsequent emotional withdrawal of their grief and guilt-stricken "Poppy." The eldest at 13, Ivah is now responsible for the safety and well-being of tiny Maisie, vulnerable and mute since their mother's passing; and for Blu, her uncontainable brother whose desperate need for love has made him vulnerable to the most insidious of relationships.

On the Hawaiian ...

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Overview

On the Hawaiian island of Molokai, life goes on for the three young Ogata children after the death of their mother and subsequent emotional withdrawal of their grief and guilt-stricken "Poppy." The eldest at 13, Ivah is now responsible for the safety and well-being of tiny Maisie, vulnerable and mute since their mother's passing; and for Blu, her uncontainable brother whose desperate need for love has made him vulnerable to the most insidious of relationships.

On the Hawaiian island of Molokai, life goes on for the three young Ogata children after the death of their mother and subsequent emotional withdrawal of their grief and guilt-stricken "Poppy." The eldest at 13, Ivah is now responsible for the safety and well-being of tiny Maisie, vulnerable and mute since their mother's passing; and for Blu, her uncontainable brother whose desperate need for love has made him vulnerable to the most insidious of relationships.

The Pushcart Prize-winning author of Wild Meat and the Bully Burgers now tells a bittersweet story of the Ogatas, a ragtag family of orphans in Hawaii reeling from the death of their mother. Ivah, 12, the big 'sista,' takes on the role, looking after a brother, a sister and their father, Poppy, a school janitor who works nights and who blames the children for his wife's death. The drama comes when Ivah realizes she must leave them if she is to become someone. Set on the Hawaiian island of Moloka'i.

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Editorial Reviews

Seattle Times
Comic and heart-wrenching. . .The force and inventiveness of Ivah's voice carries the novel.
New York Times
. . .fluidly explores the brutal divide between family duty and self-preservation, between the power of love and the power of shame. . .
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Getting to a truth about the world by writing from the eyes of a child is a venerable literary strategy. Yamanaka used the voice of an adolescent in Wild Meat and the Bully Burgers, her hailed first novel, and here she has refined that technique in a powerfully affecting narrative. The sad and bewildering events related by 13-year-old Ivah Ogata are somewhat impeded by the stilted pidgin English of working-class Hawaii, but once the reader finds the cadence, this story of three young siblings virtually abandoned after their mother's death becomes mesmerizing. While her father hides guilty secrets behind an abusive manner, and the family teeters on the edge of poverty, it is up to Ivah to feed and care for little Maisie, who hasn't spoken since their mother died, and brother Blu, whose increasing dependence on food and damaging relationships as a substitute for security brings shame upon their family. Yamanaka conveys that shame forcefully, often in conjunction with scenes of sexual exploration and abuse, as when Blu services a perverted old man in exchange for candy. In fact, sexually crude and violent scenes abound in the book, and the profanities endemic to the children's conversation emphasize the degree to which their innocence has been lost. Ivah reflects her age in some respects, with comic misperceptions of the adult world common to preadolescents; these are mixed with an increasingly resigned acceptance of brutal events with which no child should have to cope. The narrative builds to a deeply touching moment when Ivah must make a choice between her future and that of her siblings. In presenting issues of race, violence and neglect through the filtered lenses of these children, Yamanaka gives us a textured picture of their society and of the tensions that exist beyond the borders of a troubled family. When Blu and Maisie debate the meaning of 'sweet sorrow,' the narrative finds resolution in this mixture of hope and sadness.
The New York Times
. . .fluidly explores the brutal divide between family duty and self-preservation, between the power of love and the power of shame. . .
Seattle Times
Comic and heart-wrenching. . .The force and inventiveness of Ivah's voice carries the novel.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780380731398
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 7/28/1998
  • Series: Harper Perennial
  • Edition description: REPRINT
  • Pages: 261
  • Product dimensions: 5.16 (w) x 8.16 (h) x 0.65 (d)

Meet the Author

Lois-Ann Yamanaka is the author of Saturday Night at the Pahala Theatre, Wild Meat and the Bully Burgers, Blu's Hanging, and a young adult novel, Name Me Nobody.  She is the winner of a 1998 Lannan Literary Award and the 1998 Asian American Literary Award, and lives in Honolulu with her husband and son.

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Love's king-size bread works the best, white, for Maisie, Blu, and me. The crust on the king-size loaf isn't dark brown and papery, but doughy and soft. We eat mayonnaise bread for a long time after Marna's funeralIt's been two months now and it's still our primary food. Poppy plays "Moon River" over and over on the piano he got from the dead deacon garage sale last Easter. He never cries for our dead Mama in front of the three of us.

Sometimes I put pepper from the rusted Schilling's can on the mayonnaise bread. Even down to the pepper dust at the bottom of the red can. Some days, we have paprika and red chili or yellow curry powder. I stick the fork handle into the Schilling's bottle, scraping chili or curry dust off the hard rock of seasoning.

We watch Gilligan's Island with our after-school snack, which is also mayonnaise bread; Poppy still plays "Moon River" in the background.

He sings aloud:

"Old dreammaker, you heartbreaker, wherever you're going, I'm going your way."

He makes me afraid.

I know where he wants to go.

And who the dreammaker is.

I turn up the volume on the TV. Even the castaways eat better food than we do and they were stranded on a desert isle. All those coconut chiffon pies Mary Ann baked for Gilligan when they thought he was going to die from the rare tropical mosquito that bit him on the neck. Ten whole coconut pies.

About a month later, I can't charge groceries at Friendly Market; the bill has run up too high. Poppy tells me, "Ivah, I gotta work the graveyard shift at Del Monte from now on. Straight from the school, I coming home for bathe and eat, then I going to thetruck barn. You going be in charge of dinner."

The last things I bought on Poppy's charge were ajar of Best Foods, a pint of Malolo strawberry syrup, which I diluted 7 to I instead of 5 to 1, and three cans of Spam.

"You heard me? You going be in charge of dinner."

From now on.

Poppy shows me the fast way to make a hot dinner.

I cook a pot of hot rice, lots of rice. There are two things I can make from this: if the hen has laid eggs in the last three days that nobody ate, as soon as the button on the rice cooker pops I crack the three eggs right in the pot and stir it up with shoyu. Poppy says, "Just like the ole days, my madda made that for all us kids. Thass Japanee soul food, raw eggs on hot rice. Tamago meshi."

The other thing I make is cream-of-mushroom soup on the hot rice. Don't add any water. It tastes like gravy. I serve it right out of the rice pot with the soup ladle.

Poppy doesn't care. He comes home from the school full of chalk dust and the fine dirt from the dust mop thathe pushes across the gym floor at the end of the day. He smells like Pine-Sol all the time.

Poppy says I'm the best cook in the house.

Saturday morning, I saw my brother Blu gather eggs outside. He had two. I made them for him sunny-side up, and he licked the yolk off his plate.

Poppy brought home cases of dry saimin that somebody bought for him from the Swap Meet in Honolulu. So I got good at making fried noodles:

Boil the saimin and drain. Chop Spam, green onion, and fried egg and mix with the saimin. Sprinkle the soup stock over the fried noodles for flavoring.

I also make regular saimin. And one day, I come home from school and Blu and Maisie are eating dry saimin sprinkled with the soup stock. "Taste like potato chips," Blu says, and Maisie nods.

It was getting pretty bad around the house. I saved a stick of Wrigley's spearmint gum that Evangeline Reyes gave me on Monday until Saturday. I felt funny every day asking Evangeline to give me a stick of gum from the PlenTPak stash that she had in her patent-leather white bag.

I stuck my gum to the bureau at night, and after I brushed my teeth in the morning, popped it back into my mouth. I figured the plaque would stay out and the spearmint would taste fresher, longer. But the gum got so full of grit that it felt like fingernail crumbs until the gum and the grit stuck to my teeth like melted taffy. And that's when I threw it away.

I missed Mama for the loose change that she gave me for things like gum, and I missed her cooking. Pumpkin from the yard with shoyu, sugar, and dry ebi. Squash from the ravine with a small piece of pork belly. Or warabi and squash shoots with Spam. I wish I'd watched her cook so eating wouldn't be part of my dreams.

Blu dreams:

"There was food in the house. Mama was in the kitchen. It was breakfast time. We had eggs (from the carton), Farmer John bacon, Florida orange juice. I smelled it all in my room! But when I woke up, it was only a dream!"

He's got his teacher ingrained in his head, Miss Torres, who makes every student write the same last line of every writing assignment. I had her in the fourth grade too. Curse on him. Now she's part of his talking.

Today, Blu's class is going on an excursion and he has to bring a home lunch. I make the lunch for him. I look in the icebox and in the canned-goods cabinet for a long time.

"Get white bread," I tell Blu cheerfully, "and peanut butter and jelly. Get maynaise. Can make maynaise bread with whatever seasoning you like." Blu thinks mayonnaise bread is poor food even if he likes it a lot, especially with curry powder sprinkles.

One time I put cabbage instead of lettuce in his corn beef sandwich for Boy Scouts. Cabbage instead of lettuce makes a sandwich look poor, Blu says.

So I make peanut butter and jelly for him. I wrap two...

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews
  • Posted September 8, 2010

    Amazing Book

    This is truly an amazing read. Being from Hawaii I feel gratitude towards Lois Ann Yamanaka for writing such a brave and honest, sad and funny story.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 29, 2000

    Lois-Ann Yamanka kicks literary ass

    This is, quite simply, one of the best books of all time.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 2, 2000

    Not to be missed!

    This book effectively takes you through the emotional ordeals of each character, while revealing the socio-economic challenges on the islands.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 8, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

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