The Niuhi Shark Saga is an MG/YA series set in Hawaii and tells the story of Zader, a boy who was found abandoned on the reef as an infant and adopted by a loving Hawaiian family. While on the surface Zader struggles with pretty typical kid challenges like fitting in and dealing with bullies, he’s anything but typical. Zader is allergic to water—one drop on his skin is like acid. Can you imagine living in tropical rainforest near the beach but unable to get wet? For an island kid that’s impossible.
The genesis of the series comes from a movie I watched when I was seven years old.
Sprawled on the cool, polished cement floor in Kahului Elementary School’s cafeteria, all my second grade friends and I were excited about movie day. This year’s movie was from the Legends of Hawaii series. When it first began, we immediately started tittering about the half-naked ancient Hawaiian kids running around on screen. But a few minutes later no one cared that people’s okoles were hanging out because we got sucked into the story about a group of boys a little older than us who went swimming and fishing together. Mysteriously, one by one they started disappearing, never to be seen again. Finally an elder says it has to be a shark.
As seven year olds we lived in the ocean all weekend long and this was before Jaws. We knew we had to watch out for jellyfish and big waves, but we rarely heard about sharks. The idea that our playground could be deadly was new and unnerving.
In the movie, the adults worry and try to keep an eye on the boys, but BAM! One minute a boy’s picking seaweed and the next, he’s gone! There doesn’t seem to be anything anyone can do until finally someone rips the cloak off the shoulders of a boy to reveal a gapping shark’s mouth where his back should be.
“Aiyah!” we all screamed, “It’s him! He’s a shark!
Talk about the stuff of nightmares!
Over decades, parts of the story would drift through my mind and I would realize some important things that I missed as a kid, like the idea that the shark-boy’s parents kept this secret hidden his entire life. Think about that for a moment. He always wore a cloak while everybody else was running around in loin cloths. How could people have missed this? Another big idea was that the shark-boy was eating people he knew. His friends were disappearing, not random strangers.
It made my head spin.
Eventually, all the answers to the why, how, and what if questions I asked myself about this ancient Hawaiian legend twisted and turned into the Niuhi Shark Saga. Zader’s story is not a retelling of this legend, but the idea that danger could hide in plain sight and even be hidden from itself all began one humid afternoon in a cafeteria on Maui.
Middle grade is a time of questioning, changing, and a journey we all take as we transition from child to adolescent to adult. It made sense to tell a transformation and coming of age story to an audience going through similar experiences. Zader begins the Niuhi Shark Saga at 11 years old and a sixth grader. It’s on that cusp of moving out of middle grade and into young adult. Like Harry Potter, it’s a complete story told in smaller chunks. As the story progresses, Zader gets older and his problems a little darker.
But the darkness just makes the final redemption that much brighter.
Thanks for having me, Amie!
The first two books in the Niuhi Shark Saga, One Boy, No Water and One Shark, No Swim, are published by Jolly Fish Press and available as online as trade paperbacks, hardcovers, and eBooks through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and iTunes. Readers interested in following my adventures in writing can connect with me at my blog (where they can read free short stories), Niuhi Shark Saga website, Facebook and Twitter.