Telesa, by Lani Wendt Young, is the story of Leila, teenager who travels to Samoa to get to know her long-deceased mother's family and heritage. She also is trying to escape her very rich, very white grandmother, who is her guardian now that her beloved father passed away. She starts to get settled into her new environment, but strange things start happening to her and pretty soon she falls down the rabbit hole of the exotic paranormal.
It's a good set up. By having the main character come recently from the States, Young introduces us to Samoa very smoothly. And she does a great job of immersing the reader in the locale - sounds, smells, speech patterns, attitudes, etc. - without it feeling like a flowery travelogue. The book is rooted in a sense of place that I found almost as appealing as the characters and plot. And I found the characters and plot pretty darn appealing. 7CQ28RUGKYQ6
The heroine was strong, physically, emotionally, and morally, but not a Mary Sue. The love interest was absolutely delicious. I also liked what she did with the secondary characters. Even though they were generally static, they were all distinctive and had their own understandable motivations and information. In fact, there was only one really heinous person. Most were just people, variously flawed and well-intentioned, and sometimes working at cross-purposes. I think I went "Aha, that's the villain!" and then "No, that's not really a villain, I just didn't understand her until now." and then "Okay, THAT's the villain!" etc. at least three or four times.
One word of warning: the book ends with a mighty climax, but with very loose ends. I imagine it's to lead us up to the sequel, When Water Burns, due out March 2012. I looked up her blog and saw that this is billed as a trilogy (no date or name for the third book) and that there may be some books after that with other Telesa as the main characters. So, if you are all about the immediate gratification, take heed! Otherwise, purchase and proceed!
Update: Okay, I stepped away from my computer and then realized something else that Young does really well. You see, there are four important and powerful female authority figures in this book, and they're all very different. Plus, the main character is female, other secondary characters are female, and it deals with issues of sisterhood and the mother-child relationship and femininity. So, it deals with a lot of female issues, but in so natural a way that I forgot that when I recalled the book, it was the main plot and setting and relationships that came to mind, not feminism.
It also at least touches on racism, colonialism, organic and local food, natural medicines, environmentalism, science, vigilantism, and chastity. And that's just what I can recall off the top of my head. You'd think it would read like an "issues" book, but it really doesn't. I didn't feel lectured to, and she injects some nuance and complexity into the subjects. That's got to be a hard balancing act to accomplish. Brava.