Tuesday, February 1, 2022

Book Review: Freckled by T.W. Neal / Toby Neal


Goodreads Overview:

Born in 1965 to hippie surfer parents who just want to ride waves, use substances, and hide from society, red-headed Toby grows up as one of only a few hundred Caucasian “haole” people on the rugged, beautiful North Shore of Kauai, Hawaii.

“I wish I could slow down time, turn every moment to honey and watch it drip by.” Told from the immersive, first-person view of a child experiencing turbulent times as they occur, Freckled will take you on a journey you won’t soon forget as Toby catches an octopus with her bare hands to feed the family, careens on her first bike down a rugged dirt trail deep in the jungle, and makes money by selling magic mushrooms to a drug dealer. Living in tents and off the land without electricity or communication with the outside world, Toby escapes into reading and imagination to deal with racial harassment and indifferent parenting.

Toby’s idealistic parents, breaking away from high achieving families, struggle with mental health and addiction issues as they try to live according to their own rules. Despite the hardship and deprivations of life on Kauai, they return again and again to an island whose hold on them is more powerful than any drug, as sensitive and resilient Toby clings to a dream of academic achievement and a “normal” life.

Jacque's Review:

This was Preston's book club selection in his high school English class. Author Toby Neal is known for her mysteries and thrillers. This is her first attempt at nonfiction and she hit it out of the park. I haven't read any of her other novels, but I will definitely give them a try after reading Freckled.

Freckled is Toby's memoir about growing up in Hawaii in the 60's and 70's. Her parents were hippie surfers who were content living well below the poverty level in order to enjoy the sun and surf in Kauai. Discrimination against non-native white people, referred to as "haoles",  was worse than anything I have ever witnessed on the mainland. 

Toby shares her experiences of what it was like living in a homeless tent community or out of their van at various times during her childhood. The few times her father got a decent paying job that provided an actual house to live in, he found the work to be more than he could handle. He wasn't used to working 40 hours a week and simple manual labor was too much for him. He split the work up between himself, his wife, and children so he only had to work a fraction of the time and could relax, drink beer, and surf. Her parents often neglected the children and left Toby to take care of the younger ones.

What is inspiring about this story is how Toby was able to overcome her upbringing. She was always an avid reader and did well in school. The library was one of the few safe places she could go and the books provided an escape that she desperately needed. She refused to follow in her parents footsteps and always wanted more for herself. She was not afraid to work hard and knew that getting off the island, and obtaining a college degree, was her only chance of breaking the cycle and achieving her goals in life.

This book not only tells Toby's story, but shares a first had account of the discrimination on the islands. Everyone thinks of Hawaii as paradise, but that was far from the case for non-natives that wanted to live there. We are all too familiar with the stories of discrimination against people of color and initiatives like the Black Lives Matter campaign, but I had never heard of the reverse discrimination in Hawaii. This book is a great resource for schools and communities to educate students and residents about the effects of discrimination and to hopefully prevent the past from repeating itself in the future.

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