Pacific Islanders are the group that makes up the "PI" part in AAPI, or Asian American and Pacific Islander identities. They're a much smaller group — in fact, according to the 2019 U.S. Census Bureau estimate, there are roughly 1.4 million Native Hawaiians/Pacific Islanders "alone or in combination with one of more races who reside within the United States." Thus, this group is often underrepresented in media, and when their culture actually is featured, society often paints a false narrative of paradise. The history of the islands is complicated, but the spirit of the people who live and have origins there is unwavering.
To better understand and appreciate the Pacific Islander culture in a respectful way, it's a good idea to dig into books written by Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander authors. You'll find that these books — novels and fiction — often utilize different writing styles, such as lyrical prose and poetry, and have likely only recently been translated to English in the past few decades, which makes for a more interesting read. Ahead, 15 historical novels, poetry and fiction books written by Pacific Islander authors:
Kerewin Holmes is part Maori, part European, asexual and aromantic and she's outcasted from her family. This Booker Award-winning novel digs into tragic romance, mystery and heritage.
In this novel, the late Queen Lili'uokalani makes note of the difficult years Hawaii faced after a group of American and European businessman forced her to abdicate her throne. The book is essentially an unanswered plea to the United States to grant Hawaii the justice they deserved.
Praised by major publishers including The New York Times and NPR, this debut memoir reflects upon the life of a young woman growing up as queer and biracial in Boca Raton, Florida, where her identity is anything but the norm. It's also a story about love, trauma and family.
This storyline focuses on a mother (Materena) and daughter (Leilani's) relationship, and the challenges of raising a young woman in an ever-changing world. The book also explores other aspects of family bonds and romantic tragedies.
A fiction best-seller, Sia Figiel's debut is actually the first novel by a Samoan woman to be published in the United States. The story explores Samoan women and culture, seen through the perspective of 13-year-old Alofa Filiga. Readers follow Alofa as she witnesses changes happening in her village all while she grows into a young woman.
Nix is the daughter of a time traveler and has spent most of her life visiting various parts of the globe at different times. But her entire existence is suddenly at risk when her dad meddles with the past.
Little Kahu is an eight-year-old in New Zealand who only craves for her great-grandfather's attention. She's the next and only heir to the family's title of Whale Rider, but her great-grandfather dismisses this idea since she's female. But once Kahu reveals her gift to connect with whales, the family dynamic starts to change.
Later adapted into a film, White Lies tells the story of Paraita, a medicine woman and midwife whose life starts to change when new laws put restrictions on her livelihood. One day, things take a bigger toll when a servant of a wealthy white woman needs her help hiding a secret.
Author Chantal Spitz critiques the French government leading to the time French Polynesia had to undergo its first nuclear tests, making it a controversial piece during its publication. Also included in the storyline is a family saga and a doomed love story.
This collection of stories features a culturally diverse cast of characters with extremely different lifestyles, from housewives to cab drivers. Pak explores various eras as well, but each storyline is haunted by a dark, historical past.
Wanle is a young woman who's determined to become a cockfighter, just like her dad. Her story also intertwines real Hawaii and explores existing tensions between locals and tourists and the Big Island's simultaneously existing parallels of suffering and paradise.
Shark Dialogues starts with the bond between the daughter of a Tahitian chief and a Yankee sailor, and moves on to matriarch Pono's tale about her mixed-blood granddaughters coming to terms with the problems of their family's past. The novel is really a dedication to the rich heritage of Hawaii, its people and its invaders.
Writer and activist Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner is native to the Marshall Islands, and in Iep Jāltok, she talks about difficult issues like racism, colonialism, climate change and nuclear testing in a poetic way.
Joe Balaz is local to Hawaii, but he also has Slovakian and Irish ancestry. In Pidgin Eye, he elevates the voices of Hawaii and all its beauty in lyrical prose.
It's a fictional story told in the perspective of a 10-year-old Samoan girl named Samoana, but it's not a story for children. She describes what going to school and church is like, what she sees when she witnesses family violence and what it's like to have a television set for the first time. Note that the book contains a lot of untranslated Samoan phrases, so it helps to keep a reference book handy.