Three years after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, young Ella is dealing with the mysterious disappearance of her beloved father, Herman. Her mother Violet, a local schoolteacher who came to Hawaii from the Midwest to teach school, married Herman and settled into a comfortable life. Herman’s disappearance and the influx of soldiers and sailors to their island home has thrown everything into a new type of chaos, one that Ella especially struggles to understand.
When their local friends and neighbors are accused of sabotage and other acts because of their Japanese heritage, both Ella and Violet find it impossible to stand by and watch. Their hands are tied, however, just as their hands are tied in terms of finding out what has happened to Herman. There’s no way he would have left his wife and daughter, but Ella may know more than she’s telling anyone – especially her mother.
Violet and a few other women set up a business baking pies and selling them by the slice to the soldiers that have flooded the island, but it’s a small group of Marines that become part of their “family” right from the start. Violet isn’t ready to move on, and although she knows in her heart that Herman may well be dead, she’s not willing to give up on pushing the local authorities to resolve this unsettling case. Only when the truth finally comes to light can Violet begin to heal … but her greatest worry is Ella. What secrets has she been keeping?
Told in alternating perspectives between Ella and Violet, Island of Sweet Pies and Soldiers is part mystery and part history. Ella’s voice is authentic and lends a wonderful perspective to this story, and Violet’s struggle with maintaining her composure while confronted with many different situations and circumstances is compelling and real. The setting of Hawaii during the expansion of WWII into the Pacific theater is uniquely captivating, and author and native Hawaiian Sara Ackerman has drawn on family history for many of the details regarding what it was like to live on Hawaii in this timeframe. Island of Sweet Pies and Soldiers is must-read historical fiction, an emotional and evocative story of an era not so long ago when war was literally on our doorstep. Don’t miss this impressive debut novel!