The Lava Never Sleeps: A Honolulu Memoir by Loreen Lilyn Lee

Grand Prize Winner, Willow Books Literature Awards

ISBN 978-1-7322091-5-2

174 pages



In The Lava Never Sleeps: A Honolulu Memoir, Loreen Lilyn Lee poignantly details her struggle growing up in a traditional Chinese family in Honolulu, Hawai’i during the 1950s and 1960s, enduring both emotional and physical abuse. She’ll spend years trying to outrun her demons. Lee gives readers a glimpse into a time and place of transitions, and what ensues is a compelling story of revelation and acceptance, rich in culture and history. By finding the courage to tell her story, Lee has reclaimed her identity and the love for her Chinese and Hawaiian roots.

Gail Tsukiyama, author of Women of the Silk and The Samurai’s Garden

Lee gives us an insider’s view of a Chinese American girl growing up in 1950s­-1960s Hawai’i. Born in Honolulu to Chinese parents, Lee writes of being raised in a male-dominated household where she and her sisters take a back seat to their brothers, where father controls the family’s money and power, and where paternal control results in secrecy and emotional abuse of mother as well as children. Secrets are kept; and one of these is sexual abuse, its story threaded sensitively throughout the book. All the while, Lee dots the pages with Hawaii’s geologic history, lush and volatile. She tells us how Hawai’i’s land and history informed, and defined, the way she lives and experiences life. If you want to write a memoir, read Lee’s book. She shows us the way.

Esther Altshul Helfgott, Ph.D., author of Dear Alzheimer’s: A Caregivers Diary & Poems (Cave Moon Press, 2013); and Listening to Mozart: Poems of Alzheimers (Cave Moon Press, 2014)

Quiet, understated, and effective, Lee’s memoir exerts a calm but insistent pull on the reader. It clasps the reader’s hand with a gentle invitation to follow her as she examines her life, telling what had been left untold for so long. As she reconstructs her Hawaiian childhood and reflects on her adult years, she considers the effect of her Chinese family’s patriarchal and misogynistic traditions on both.  The straightforwardness of the narrative belies the turmoil beneath the surface, her story like lava that flows gracefully while bubbling with heat. Her musings on what might have been, her reflections and analysis of her choices or lack of them, her awakening to her own needs and strength, and her appreciation of the full richness of her Chinese, American, and Hawaiian heritage make a rewarding read. 

Donna Miscolta, author of Hola and Goodbye: Una Familia in Stories.

Currently tutoring English and writing at North Seattle College, Loreen Lilyn Lee is a Seattle writer fascinated by topics of personal and cultural identity and how we are shaped into becoming who we are. She has been shaped by three cultures: Chinese (ethnicity), American (nationality), and Hawaiian (nativity). Awards include fellowships for a Hedgebrook residency and the year-long Jack Straw Writers Program. Her personal essay “Being Local” was published in The 2014 Jack Straw Writers Anthology. She has read her work in numerous public venues in Seattle and Portland, including being selected for performing in “Listen To Your Mother,” produced in 41 cities in 2016. A graduate from the University of Washington, Loreen credits completing her college degree as a working adult as the catalyst to becoming a creative writer.