Book Review: The Descendants by Kaui Hart Hemmings

The Descendants is a novel about a dysfunctional family that has to pull itself together as their wife/mother lies dying in the hospital.

I read The Descendants as part of the 2021 Thoughtful Reading Challenge. December’s challenge is to read a book set in Hawaii in honor of the 80th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Here’s the plot summary from Amazon:

“Fortunes have changed for the King family, descendants of Hawaiian royalty and one of the state’s largest landowners. Matthew King’s daughters—Scottie, a feisty ten-year-old, and Alex, a seventeen-year-old recovering drug addict—are out of control, and their charismatic, thrill-seeking mother, Joanie, lies in a coma after a boat-racing accident. She will soon be taken off life support.

As Matt gathers his wife’s friends and family to say their final goodbyes, a difficult situation is made worse by the sudden discovery that there’s one person who hasn’t been told: the man with whom Joanie had been having an affair. Forced to examine what they owe not only to the living but to the dead, Matt, Scottie, and Alex take to the road to find Joanie’s lover, on a memorable journey that leads to unforeseen humor, growth, and profound revelations.”


The subtitle of this book could have been “How to be a Bad Parent.” Matt was evidently completely checked out of his daughters’ lives and watching him try to be a responsible parent is like watching a twelve-year-old boy playing the role of “dad” in a school play. I mean, he dragged his kids along to confront their dying mom’s lover. Who does that? I think the family is doomed.

On the plus side, I thought the hospital scenes were done well. Having had a parent in a medically induced coma, I could relate to the feeling of not being sure what to say and do while sitting next to a hospital bed. Does the person hear you or even know you’re there? Should I hold his hand? Should I read to him or play his favorite music? And the gut wrenching feeling of holding onto futile hope also rang true.

Despite the well-written hospital scenes, I didn’t much care for this book. The characters, including the dying mom, were all unlikable. And Matt exasperated me so much that I couldn’t even applaud his minor moments of growth.

I would suggest finding better books to read.

Did you read a book set in Hawaii this month? Tell us about it in the comments section.

Wishing you a new year full of health, happiness, and great books!

9 thoughts on “Book Review: The Descendants by Kaui Hart Hemmings

  1. The book I have, but haven’t yet read is Freckled by TW Neal. The back cover tells of another dysfunctional family, “a memoir of growing up wild in Hawaii.” I will let you know how it goes!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Guess I’ll dodge that one! I read Captive Paradise: A History of Hawaii by James L. Haley. I enjoy history and this month gave me reason to learn more about Hawaii, which I knew little about. Fascinating culture and politics, and a very in-depth book.

    Happy New Year to you and your family!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sounds like you picked a winner! The Descendants hinted at that history and it made me realize how little I know of Hawaiian history. Thanks for sharing information about the book you read. I think I need to add it to my library list.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Saw the movie which I didn’t like (even though it starred George Clooney), so I will skip the book.
    Don’t have a book at this time set in Hawaii, but wanted to suggest for you my current Book Club book. Looking forward to the discussion next Monday when we meet. “West with Giraffes” by Lynda Rutledge. Happy New Year, Peace and Blessings

    Liked by 1 person

    • My husband really liked the movie, which is a great example of why we have a hard time choosing movies to watch together. 🙂

      West with Giraffes looks right up my alley. I just bought the Kindle version. Thanks for the recommendation!


  4. Ha! Call it like it is! The only thing I can possibly say is that you were too kind?! You are right, Matt is an awful Dad and wow, did he also have awful kids. I actually found it frustrating because Matt was so bad and so were the kids. I couldn’t stop thinking about what these kids really needed. But alas, that ship had sailed years ago. It really made me reflect that “you reap what you sow” and that all of those little actions/interactions early on that you may think are inconsequential really do matter and add up over time. Oh, and hey Dad, how about being involved?

    Maybe the next time we read a book about Hawaii we suck it up and read Michener?! Although we didn’t end the year on a great book, it has been a GREAT year reading with you again! We read some really solid books this year, just like 2020. I look forward to 2022 and reading with you – as long as we don’t read this one again! Happy New Year!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. No Hawaii for me this month, as I’m stuck in the near-Montreal world of Three Pines, reading the Louise Penny inspector Arnaud Ganache books. I started them late in life and now feel compelled to read all 17 — which is not the chore it sounds like. I’m already through #6 and racing ahead with great alacrity. Whoever invented the cozy mystery genre was a genius.

    I remember the George Clooney movie – which wasn’t very good, though what’s not to like with Clooney…? Sorry the book wasn’t better.

    Thanks for including me in this wonderful book-loving community. All best wishes for 2022!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think I need to add more cozy mysteries to my reading list. They’re good for my mental health!

      I’m so glad we were able to reconnect through my blog. Thanks for all your insightful comments and book recommendations!


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