Heads By Harry

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Toni Yagyuu is a far cry from the high-achieving Asian American stereotype. The daughter of a Japanese American taxidermist, Harry, and his wife, school teacher Mary Alice, on the island of Hawaii, she struggles to find her place in life. Through hunting and taxidermy, she tries to please her rough-hewn father, who is disappointed by her brother Sheldon, a homosexual who prefers sewing and cosmetology to the rugged outdoor life. She yearns for the attention bestowed on her younger sister, the beautiful but superficial and manipulative Bunny, and longs for the ease with which Bunny gets through life. Although bright, Toni sleepwalks through high school and flunks out of college because of excessive partying.

Back home, she remains lost, losing a job in a tourist shop before becoming a pig exterminator for the government. She enters into a strange relationship with the Santos brothers—the handsome Maverick and the brutish Wyatt—and Billy, six years younger than her. This utter chaos somehow provides the means for Toni to find herself.

Novelist and poet Lois-Ann Yamanaka makes effective use of pidgin English and coarse language in creating a vivid, earthy portrayal of a lower-class family in Hawaii. Heads By Harry is a sometimes humorous, sometimes disturbing coming-of-age story of a girl and her siblings that completes the Hawaii trilogy begun by Wild Meat and the Bully Burgers (1996) and continued with Blu’s Hanging (1997).