Title: BLACK ROCKS AND RAINBOWS
Author: Susan C. Riford
Publisher: Blackstone Publishing
Genre: YA / Historical
The journey of a lifetime told in the audiobook BLACK ROCKS AND RAINBOWS begins with a ship: “An enormous canoe, with great white wings like a magnificent bird.” This is the merchant schooner Triumph from New England, anchored offshore by what is now known as the Big Island of Hawaii, and in 1807, the sight of it captivates a young Hawaiian boy’s imagination and spirit of adventure. Fifteen-year-old Hiapo Opukahaia, orphaned as the result of a war between two rival island chiefs, has been contemplating his future. He dives into the sea and swims to the ship, where he is invited to stay for dinner. When the captain asks if he would like to go to America, he nods Yes.
The audiobook BLACK ROCKS AND RAINBOWS, an historical novel for young adults, edited and narrated by actress Suzanne Ford, was written by her late mother, Susan C. Riford. The audiobook chronicles the gripping story of Hiapo – renamed “Henry” by his fellow crewmen – whose literal and figurative journey leads to the greatest adventure of all: a hunger for knowledge which ultimately changes Hawaii forever. The title refers to the lava rocks and beautiful rainbows of the Big Island, the vision of which Henry carries with him for the rest of his life.
Working as a cabin boy, Henry does encounter true-life adventures – pirates, storms – during the ship’s year-long voyage, via the Seal Islands and China, back to its home port of New Haven, Connecticut. He also learns to read and write English, unlocking his quest for further knowledge; upon arriving in New Haven, Henry realizes he desperately wants to keep learning, but has no idea how.
Weeping one day on the steps of Yale College, he is found by a kind student, a relative of the school’s president. Taken under the president’s wing, Henry becames a scholar. He wants to translate written works from English into Hawaiian, but at the time, there is no such written Hawaiian language. So he begins to apply the principles in an American spelling book – devised by Noah Webster, of dictionary fame – to the sounds of his native tongue. In doing so, he creates the alphabet-spelling-grammar system that is the basis for the Hawaiian written language in use to this day.
Sadly, Henry dies of typhus fever in 1818 at the age of 26. He is buried in Cornwall, Connecticut, until 1993, when he makes one final journey: a group of Hawaiian residents has successfully crusaded for the return of his remains to the Big Island for permanent burial. Hiapo Opukahaia has come home.
Suzanne Ford was inspired to create the audiobook BLACK ROCKS AND RAINBOWS originally written by her late mother, Susan Riford, a prolific author of children’s books and plays and founder of what is now known as the Rev Theatre Company in Auburn, New York. Her mother became fascinated with Henry’s story when she moved to Maui. “The novel was her final work before she died,” Ford says. “I took on the unfinished manuscript, wrote the last chapter, had a few copies printed and recorded the audiobook. The story is such a fascinating and compelling adventure, fun to listen to for anyone, but especially for young adults.”
Ford is working on an updated, illustrated book version of BLACK ROCKS AND RAINBOWS. “It’s noteworthy that there has never been a full-length historical novel about Opukahaia, who is such a major figure in Hawaiian history and whose story carries a timeless message about the importance of education,” she observes. “Especially in this era of the dawning of deeper recognition of indigenous peoples and their heritage, this as yet unfamiliar but universal coming-of-age story is resonant and relevant to youth of any culture.”
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I chose to listen to the book after receiving a free audio copy. All opinions in this review are my own and completely unbiased.
This story is based on the facts of the life of Opukahaia, which was an amazing one. At just 10 years old he witnessed the murder of his parents and then had to live with the chief of the tribe responsible for killing his parents. When his uncle found out that he was alive, he took over his care and wanted to teach him to follow in his footsteps. Although everyone treated him well, he wanted to find his calling in life instead of being told what he was going to do. Such a strong young man!
At 15 years old, Opukahaia became a cabin boy which started his journey that not only changed his life but made his mark in history. He was so smart and he had a thirst for knowledge so, fittingly, he ended up at Yale and learned as well as taught others about his homeland.
Historical fiction has been one of my favorite genres since I read Johnny Tremain as a child. I enjoyed this story immensely and believe that young adults as well as adults will like it. The ending was sad and really touched me, I think because I knew that Opukahaia was an actual person. But he did inspire others to go to Hawaii to teach his people to read and write using the alphabet that he devised.
Suzanne Ford does a great job narrating the story. Her pace and timing are great, and I enjoyed listening to her. I definitely recommend Black Rocks & Rainbows to anyone who likes audiobooks.
“This adventure story is riveting from start to finish and the action keeps coming. The ending, though sad because it’s a true story, was very uplifting and inspiring. A very satisfying audiobook experience.”
Listen to a sample of the audiobook here:
About the Creator
Suzanne Ford is an actress and writer working in film, television, and theatre. She has performed in more than100 stage productions in New York and Los Angeles, on tour and in regional theatres around the country. Her many film credits include the Duplass Brothers’ recent hit Manson Family Vacation; You, Me and Dupree and The Apparition, and she has appeared on such television shows as Grace and Frankie, Grey’s Anatomy, Criminal Minds, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia and Friends. She has been an advertising copywriter, has written a biography of Mel Gibson, screenplays, and cookbooks, and has ghostwritten memoirs. She and her husband live in the Hollywood Hills.