In Tahiti, it's a well-known fact that women are wisest, mothers know best, and Materena Mahi knows best of all--or so everyone except for her own daughter thinks. Soon enough, mother and daughter are engaged in a tug-of-war that tests the bonds of their love.
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.