RaveThe New York Times Book ReviewWashburn’s depiction of [the sharks\'] rescue is as vivid as it is splendid ... as in García Márquez’s work, the wonders and woes of being part of a community take center stage ... This may be his debut, but [Washburn] proves himself an old hand at dissecting the ways in which places—our connections to them, our disconnections from them—break us and remake us ... With prose that can be breathy and sweaty in one paragraph before gliding softly and tenderly into the next, this passionate writer cries out for us to see Hawaii in its totality: as a place of proud ancestors and gods and spirits, but also of crumbling families and hopelessness and poverty. Of mystery and beauty at every corner.
PositiveThe Washington PostThere is a lot of loss in this book, most notably the loss of one’s life by one’s own hands. How does one come to terms with a strong urge to commit suicide? How does one make sense of this urge when outwardly one is 'an example of the American dream come true?' How does a writer partake in a genuine conversation with a world that loves the sight and sound of success stories — the splendor without the abyss beneath? ... Li’s ruminations on her anguish are so poignant that it’s nearly impossible not to close your eyes and give her a long mind-hug when she says 'again and again my mind breaks at the same spot as though it is a fracture that never fully heals' ... Interspersing her thoughts with stories from her Beijing childhood and her time in the army, Li doesn’t allow us too far behind the scenes of her private life, and I salute that ironclad hold on writerly privacy. Still, from what she tells us about her mother — the 'family despot'— I was left disturbed and wishing she would tell us more explicitly about the link, if there is any, between her mother’s invectives and Li’s eventual melancholia ... Li has stared in the face of much that is beautiful and ugly and treacherous and illuminating — and from her experience she has produced a nourishing exploration of the will to live willfully.