The Descendants

Friday, June 19, 2015

The Descendants
by Kaui Hart Hemmings

Set in Hawaii, this novel is a nuanced portrait of a family in distress. There’s Matt, the father who long ago checked out on his family. He’s forced to start parenting again when an accident puts his wife Joanie in a coma. He is left to reconnect with his two daughters, the troubled teen Alex, and 10-year-old Scotty who is growing up too fast, as they come to terms with Joanie’s situation.

Along the way he discovers Joanie might have been having an affair and quickly his grief becomes twisted with bitterness and confusion. He begins to question the decisions he has made over the past few years. Like most families, they are dysfunctional, yet they truly love each other.

The character of Joni is fascinating because we see her only through memories and her husband and daughter’s points of view. We never hear why she made the decisions she did, which doesn’t take anything away from the story, but it leaves us feeling as frustrated as Matt is.

This was one of the rare cases when I saw the movie first, but I’m still glad I went back and read the book. The movie version is excellent, but the book adds even more depth because we can hear Matt’s internal monologue and struggle as he tries to reconnect with his daughters and come to terms with his relationship with his wife.

BOTTOM LINE: I was surprised by how much I loved this book. Even though the two teenage daughters were annoying at times, it was necessary for the dynamic of the story. It was a great study in grief and love and all the confusing emotions in between. 

“That's how you know you love someone, I guess, when you can't experience anything without wishing the other person were there to see it, too.”

“Get used to it. She'll be there for the rest of your life. She'll be there on birthdays, at Christmastime, when you get your period, when you graduate, have sex, when you marry, have children, when you die. She'll be there and she won't be there.”


JoAnn said...

This book has been on my wish list ever since the movie was released. Glad to know you loved it!

Trish @ Love, Laughter, Insanity said...

I still haven't seen the movie either! Maybe I'll just skip it and listen to this one instead. I'm always interested in how authors handle and portray grief.

Debbie said...

We read this in one of my book clubs a few years ago. I was also surprised how much I liked it.

Jeanne said...

I agree that it was great to see the movie first and then read the book and experience the deepening of some of the themes and characters.

Anonymous said...

I don't think I've ever read a book set in Hawaii and for that reason alone I may pick it up.

Anonymous said...

It's nice to hear that the movie didn't "spoil" the book. I haven't seen or read it yet.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

JoAnn - I really enjoyed it.

Trish - It was excellent on audio!

Debbie - I would love to discuss this one with my book club. There were so many great issues brought up.

Jeanne - That's so rare, but both mediums worked well with the story in their own way.

52booksorbust - I would highly recommend it for that reason. It describes the area from the point of view of someone who lives there instead of from a tourist's POV.

misfortuneofknowing - I feel like that's not normally the case, but the movie was so well done.

thecuecard said...

Yes I quite enjoyed the movie of this book. Clooney was Clooney too. which was nice.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

thecuecard - It was a great film!