We usually only see the Chosen One in science fiction or fantasy. In those genres, the Chosen One has certain powers or abilities that help them take up their predestined role in defeating some Big Bad. The road is difficult. Someone usually dies. Unfortunately for Nainoa Flores, the protagonist of Kawai Strong Washburn’s heart-wrenching novel, Sharks in the Time of Saviors, he has no idea what he’s supposed to do with his remarkable abilities to heal and to understand animals. His mother has some ideas, but Nainoa ties himself into psychological knots trying to figure out what his purpose is.
Malia, Nainoa’s mother, knew that her son was going to be special, right from his conception. On the night Nainoa was created, Malia and her husband see the Nightmarchers. Any doubt about Nainoa’s specialness evaporated when the boy accidentally falls into the ocean on a boat ride and is rescued by sharks. Then Nainoa heals a boy’s hand after a mishap with a firework. The boy clearly has powers that he’s supposed to use for something. But as Nainoa looks around at the world, he sees so much that needs fixing. There’s poverty. There’s environmental pollution and degradation. Also, he’s just a boy. What is he supposed to do in the face of human greed, apathy, and folly?
Nainoa’s parents have no guidance for him. He’s left to himself to work things out. The pressure of being a Chosen One weighs heavy on his shoulders. On top of this, Nainoa’s parents’ favoritism towards Nainoa means that his siblings grow up feeling resentful or ignored. Dean, the oldest, does his best to turn himself into a basketball phenom so that he has some fame of his own. Kaui, Nainoa’s sister, studies her way out of poor, rural Hawaii. All this uncertainty and emotional tension turns Sharks in the Time of Saviors into a tragedy. Nothing goes right in this book as the characters search for their purposes in life.
Sharks in the Time of Saviors is a strange book. If I had to say it was about any one thing, I would say that it’s about sibling rivalry. Sure, Nainoa has it in him to (maybe) change the world. But Nainoa doesn’t narrate this novel. His mother, brother, and sister do. Their perspective means that we get a close look at the jealousy, feelings of being unloved, and torment that Nainoa’s siblings feel and Malia’s bewildered love for her son. Readers who enjoy books about dysfunctional families will find plenty of material to explore. Readers who like stories of Chosen Ones that end with hope and triumph should give this one a miss.
I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley, for review consideration.