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Pieces of Blue


Pieces of Blue

Holly Goldberg Sloan, who has written seven books for young readers and the screenplay for the film Angels in the Outfield, makes her adult fiction debut with PIECES OF BLUE, a heartfelt page-turner that follows a family as they rebuild from grief.

It has been 26 months since the Hill family was blown apart by the drowning death of Paul, a tech whiz whose great discoveries gave his loved ones a ritzy life that has since been stripped from them. Since his death, Lindsey has been trying to give her children --- moody 14-year-old Olivia, inquisitive 12-year-old Carlos, and seven-year-old Sena, their shining light --- a stable life as a newly single parent. At the same time, she continues to unpack the demise of her marriage and the man she thought she knew.

Now, after months of fighting for Paul's life insurance policy, the family finally has enough money to pay for a fresh start --- and that is how we meet them at the Daniel K. Inouye International Airport in Honolulu. Trading rainy Portland for sunny, beachy Hawaii, Lindsey has purchased a ramshackle but quaint motel, hoping that she will earn enough from the tourists to give her kids a new life.

"[F]or an adult debut, PIECES OF BLUE is every bit as big-hearted as [Sloan's] books for young readers, but with a keen, sharp sensitivity that gives the same amount of weight and attention to its adult characters."

Their time in Hawaii gets off to a bang, literally, as Lindsey immediately crashes their rental car and decides to buy it, dents and all. The journey to their remote new home is long, but the scenery is gorgeous and none of her kids can believe that the beautiful, fragrant state with its crisp blue beaches is theirs. The Mau Loa Motel, on the other hand, is a bit more run down than its sellers let on. Lindsey then finds out that they will be leaving the island soon and therefore will not be able to show her the ropes. Worse, they shut down the motel as soon as they decided to sell it, so there are no cleaners, handymen or desk workers employed. Lindsey now realizes that she may have bitten off more than she can chew

Fortunately, Lindsey’s children are adapting more quickly, none more so than Sena, who develops an obsession with the roosters and chicken that come with the property and immerses herself in the culture, even using Hawaiian words that Lindsey swears she never could have heard before. The teenagers --- full of grief, anxiety and insecurity --- take to the move less seamlessly, but Olivia quickly finds a new crush to fixate on. Carlos, a very obviously white boy, cuts the last two letters off his name and reinvents himself as Carl, a cool, popular kid unburdened by the anxieties that plague his older sister. Of course, the kids are still grieving, and while Carl seems to be the most well-adjusted of all, it is clear that he is taking the stiff-upper-lip approach, burying his own pain to be the man his family needs.

With only two months to get the motel up and running, Lindsey learns that it has never been advertised, lacks consistent rates, and seems to cater only to people who already know about it. When a handsome, charming widower named Chris shows up one day to see if the motel is still open, Lindsey feels for the first time since Paul’s death that she can love again. Chris continues to visit the island to remember his late wife and offers to help Lindsey with some repairs in exchange for a stay in one of the motel’s eight cottages. She quickly agrees to this plan.

Not only can Chris help Lindsey meet her deadline, he probably can tell her more about island life and the motel’s history than any brochure can. More than that, though, he can provide the adult company she so sorely misses as she revisits and reexamines her life with Paul and what his death has exposed about him, herself and the family she is now tasked with supporting, guiding and nurturing. But like any vacation romance (“vacation” being a loose term since Lindsey and her family are determined to become locals), Chris comes with some secrets of his own. When a crisis hits the Mau Loa, the reveals are almost too much for the Hill family to bear.

Holly Goldberg Sloan perfectly describes the scents, sights and secrets of Hawaii while also casting a critical eye on its tourist culture, which has decimated the islands and their native inhabitants. With a setting so perfectly crafted, these characters are able to live and breathe on the page, which makes for fast reading that never loses your attention.

While Sloan spends the first two-thirds of the novel focusing on the Hill family’s emergence from grief, it is dazzling, precocious Sena who is the true star of the show. Sloan’s experience with writing children’s characters is on full display here, and the voice of Sena alone is enough for me to encourage any reader to pick up this book. But Sloan also succeeds with beleaguered, exhausted and terrified Lindsey, whose twin motivations to protect her children and understand the man she thought she knew form a propulsive throughline in this otherwise almost cozy novel.

I found the mystery in the last third of the book to be a bit of a wild card. The plot was so strong otherwise, and while it was obvious that Sloan did this to push her characters along, I wish she had  continued the way she began: four broken people seeking healing and redemption through their own internal and interpersonal journeys. That said, for an adult debut, PIECES OF BLUE is every bit as big-hearted as her books for young readers, but with a keen, sharp sensitivity that gives the same amount of weight and attention to its adult characters.

Reviewed by Rebecca Munro on May 12, 2023

Pieces of Blue
by Holly Goldberg Sloan

  • Publication Date: May 9, 2023
  • Genres: Fiction, Women's Fiction
  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Flatiron Books
  • ISBN-10: 1250847303
  • ISBN-13: 9781250847300