In this whimsical, charming novel (her first to be published in the U.S.), Vaite introduces readers to proud "professional cleaner" Materena Mahi, one of the spunkiest, wisest, lovingest women on the island of Tahiti. With her combustible husband missing after a minor domestic squabble, Materena learns she's pregnant with a daughter. What will she do? Move on—until Pito moves back, of course. "Girls hurt their mother from the day they come into this world.... Girls are a curse," say some island women, but Matarena is delighted with her baby, Leilani, who soon grows into a free-spirited, curious, and sometimes troublesome girl. Materena instructs Leilani in all the folk knowledge of Tahiti—e.g., "To get rid of unwanted guests without hurting their feelings, broom around their feet"—but she can't answer all Leilani's impossible questions ("Who started the French Revolution? What's the medical term for the neck?"). Materena decides to send her to a good Catholic school, but if Leilani makes her a grandmother before she's 40, she's going to scratch out her eyes. Of course Leilani falls in love too young, which is just one of the family troubles Materena weathers with patience—and passion. This story of love, gossip and growing up (even at 40) has all the irresistible freshness of a warm breeze. (Feb.)
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Featuring inimitable "professional house cleaner" Materena Mahi and her family, this is Vaite's first novel to be published in the U.S.; it will be followed by two other novels about the Mahi family. In lilting language rife with many a charming Tahitian saying, Vaite presents an archetypal story of mother--daughter conflict. Materena has always forged the middle path between ancient Tahitian rituals and modern-day know-how. In fact, when she gave the "Welcome to Womanhood" speech to her daughter, Leilani, she recited the old rules verbatim (" Don't wash your hair during your period, otherwise your blood will turn to ice"), but they were accompanied by gales of laughter. All of Materena's friends and some of her relatives avidly seek her opinions because of her commonsense wisdom and life--affirming nature. But when Leilani takes up with the motorcycle-riding Hotu, who has left many broken hearts in his wake, it is Materena who needs emotional support. Conveying a deep respect for women's strength and peppered with catchy aphorisms, this funny and moving mother-daughter story should have wide appeal. Joanne Wilkinson
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