I’m trying to make use of what I already have during my (s)low buy, and a big part of the whole complex, multi-prong effort involves catching my “read” pile up to my “bought” pile of books.

I read Hula by Lisa Shea in half a day. It is a hauntingly beautiful and profoundly sad novel(la) consisting of broken, disjointed vignettes of a broken family. The narrator is a 10 year old girl, who says of her dog: “To me, she smells like the whole world–fur, flowers, smoke, grass, dirt.


Our girl narrator mostly plays, unsupervised, with her older sister in their yard and the neighborhood. Their father suffers PTSD from his time in the military.


“We are sitting on the front steps watching the storm come. The sky is getting dark and the air smelled sharp and wet. I don’t have any top on because we got chased out of the house by our father, who is arguing with our mother. Our father’s voice is the thunder getting closer. Our mother’s voice is the wind shaking the pointy leaves of the mimosa tree. There isn’t any lightning yet.


Shea’s simple words and sentences perfectly illuminate the precious heartache and terror of her subject.


Gorilla is the most gut-wrenching, soul-searing page and change I’ve read recently.


In the middle of dinner, our father gets up to put on his gorilla mask and hands. He keeps them on the top shelf of the living-room closet, next to our mother’s winter hats and gloves. After our father leaves the table, our mother tells us to keep eating. For dessert, she says, there will be watermelon and vanilla wafers.

I feed my hot dog to Mitelin, who is waiting under the table for scraps. After she lies back down, I take off my zories and rest my feet on her thick, smooth fur.

Our father comes in wearing his gorilla mask and hands, swinging his arms and beating his chest. My sister puts her hands over her plate. Our father pushes her hands away, grabs at her food and pokes sauerkraut through the mouth hole in his mask. He moves around the table, swiping food from the paper plates and guzzling from the cups. Near my mother he bangs his head on the knickknack shelf and one of the snow globes fall and breaks on the floor. It’s the one with the satellite inside.

When our father comes near me, I slide down under the table, but he pulls me back up by his hairy rubber hands. I don’t say anything. He likes being the gorilla. After dinner, when he takes off the mask and hands, his face will be flushed and there will be tears in his eyes.


Mental illness in a parent oppresses children in a way adults can’t imagine. But the most difficult subjects and points of view deserve most of our attention. I’m glad for books like _Hula_ that confront trauma and say again and again, this happens and it’s real.

Hula by Lisa Shea
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One thought on “Hula by Lisa Shea

  • February 14, 2019 at 6:47 am

    Maybe it was PTSD, or alcoholism or brain injury. Or maybe his father was violent to him too.
    It’s hard when you see children being hurt. I once saw a man shouting and berating his young son in the carpark. The child in me said to speak up, but the adult stayed silent. Sometimes it’s hard to know what the right thing to do is. Maybe the right thing is to stay silent, because the kid is better staying with the abusive dad than being in foster care. Maybe he can save himself as an adult, but will be remembering no one spoke up for him as a child. Or maybe it really is that bad and someone should speak up.


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