Feral chickens of every color amble across the vast green lawn between the Kalihiwai River and carport of author Mika Ashley-Hollinger’s home. As one or the other approaches, she tells me their name and story of how they came to reside on her self-described chicken rescue.
“That’s Aunty,” said the first time author in a telltale southern accent even 40 years on Kaua’i has failed to erase.
The buoyant red hen bobbles up to cluck a question that Ashely-Hollinger clearly understands.
“Not now Aunty,” she answers tenderly.
The role animals play in her life is obvious and one reflected in her debut young adult novel, “Precious Bones,” released May 2012 by Random House. This suspenseful adventure packages issues of discrimination, environmental exploit and animal welfare in the endearing dialect and fecund scents of the South.
Bones, the novel’s narrator, is a 10 year-old girl living with her parents on the edge of the Florida swamp with a veritable host of adopted pets that include a pig and a raccoon. Set in 1946, this lush and rugged landscape was the childhood home of Ashely-Hollinger.
“I wanted to write the Florida I grew up in for my grandkids,” she said.
Sadly though, that place is “long gone.”
The setting may be a Florida swamp, but the message is relevant to contemporary Kaua’i.
“Kaua’i is still magnificent. We need to protect it,” she said. “Most important is the message for kids—they need to look around before it’s lost.”
“Precious Bones” began as a memoir that morphed into a fictional story rich with history, regional wisdom and an intimate look at an ecosystem. Ashely-Hollinger’s storytelling voice is playful and wise, as she paints a picture of a Florida readers can taste, smell and hear.
While writing the book, she taped a note near her computer reading, “Write so it won’t be forgotten.”
“That’s what kept me going,” she said. “The number one reason I wanted to tell this story is because I really want to inspire kids so they know they can do anything they want to do right here on this island.”
Having grown up in a “one-store, one gas station town,” Ashely-Hollinger sees the parallels between her ill-fated Florida town and Kaua’i.
Preservation of Kaua’i’s ecosystem is foremost on the author’s mind.
“What we are doing right now is affecting seven generations down the road,” she said. “It’s our responsibility to save it. We need to be the kupuna now.”
“Precious Bones” is available in paperback on Amazon, Barnes&Noble and Indie Bound websites. Visit mikaashley-hollinger.com to learn more about the author.
Excerpt from “Precious Bones”
The sun had just kissed the day goodbye as we approached the landing to our house. The flat horizon looked as though someone had spilled a glass of fresh-squeezed orange juice across it. Clusters of orange dripped and melted into red and gold. Nolay and I sat bathed in a soft splendor as the colors reflected off the water’s glassy black surface. The only sounds were our poles dipping gently in the water and the symphony of the swamp. Nolay leaned forward and whispered, “It’s like we’re being cradled in the hands of God, in the very hands of God. Can you feel it, Bones?”
“I looked back into his crystal-blue eyes and replied, “Yes, sir, I sure can.”