Sharks in the Time of Saviors Summary

Sharks in the Time of Saviors is a 2020 magical realist novel about the Floreses, a working-class Hawai’ian family affected by supernatural events.

  • When their son Nainoa is rescued from drowning by sharks, Malia and Augie Flores realize Nainoa has been given an extraordinary divine power.
  • Nainoa uses his gift to save others but suffers under the weight of responsibility, while his siblings, Dean and Kaui, struggle to form their own identities.
  • After Nainoa’s death, the family slowly begin to heal as they realize that Nainoa’s power lives not only in each of them but in Hawai’i itself.


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Last Updated on February 24, 2021, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1315

Divided into four sections, each chapter of Sharks in the Time of Saviors is written in the first person in the voice of a different narrator from among the Flores family, with each character having his or her own style. Each chapter tells the story of a different time and place and is headed with a date and location.

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Malia's first experience of the gods is on the night when her son Nainoa, or Noa, was conceived, when she and her husband Augie saw a group of Hawai'ian spirits marching with lights in the dark. However, Malia does not realize the significance of this event until the family moves to O'ahu to escape poverty. There, they buy a glass-bottomed boat on which they run tours. One day, Noa falls off the boat and into the water. Malia is terrified because the water is shark-infested, but when she leaps into the water to save her child, she realizes that, far from trying to attack Noa, one of the sharks is bringing him back to his mother in its mouth. After this incident, the Flores family benefits financially, receiving multiple donations.

One New Year's Eve, Noa (who is incredibly clever and popular with his teachers) is being teased by his brother Dean and two friends. Later in the evening, one of these friends, Skyler, burns his hand badly on a firecracker; Noa touches the boy's hand and miraculously heals it. When gossip about this spreads throughout the community, Noa begins to receive visits from sick people in the area, who pay vast amounts of money to Malia and Augie in order to access Noa.

Noa is now the chief source of income for the family, but this has a negative effect on his relationships with his siblings, both of whom believe in his gift despite being afraid of it. They feel that beside Noa, they are unable to attract their parents' attention, which leads Dean into drugs and Kaui to try harder at school. Noa becomes tired by the constant visits, and one day, when a local man with Parkinson's disease returns to the house poised to attack him, Noa is afraid. The man complains that he has paid the Flores family but is not cured. After the incident, Noa declares that he is unable to "fix" anyone anymore. He cuts himself in a failed attempt to practice healing and one night is found by his family in a graveyard, where animals come to him in their final moments to offer him their "last sparks" before they die. Malia and Augie both experience the sensation of flying like an owl when they are there with Noa. Noa says he knows he was meant to fix not only their family, but also Hawai'i, but he isn't sure he can do it.

Dean, meanwhile, has become a baseball star, something which takes him away from Hawai'i to Spokane, where he secures a basketball scholarship to the local university. Kaui has never been as easily academically-minded as her brother Noa, but she has worked hard for many years to achieve excellent grades and is soon accepted to university in San Diego, where she begins studying engineering. It is Dean's goal to demonstrate to his parents that his basketball skills will one day bring them as much money and pride as Noa's secret touch. However, he finds that his basketball and college career is not all that he hoped. After several semesters, he begins to falter, repeating a period of difficulty he experienced in high school, and is forced to drop out of college. Ashamed to return to his parents in Hawai'i in such a state, he remains in Spokane and becomes a delivery man.

Noa, meanwhile, overwhelmed by the sense that he needs to "fix" Hawai'i and is unequal to the task of doing so, leaves for Portland, Oregon, and becomes a medic. This is a rewarding job for him at first, as he is able to help people with the use of his gifts, and at first his life in Portland is happy. He forges a relationship with a woman, Khadeja, whom at first he thinks he will be very happy with. However, again Noa suffers a setback when his gifts fail him: unable to save the lives of a woman and her baby during a shift one night, he feels terribly guilty and responsible and enters a deep depression, from which neither Khadeja nor his brother Dean is able to save him. Noa regrets the fact that his relationship with Dean, once so close, has broken down so conclusively and that Dean still resents him. In despair, he goes back to Hawai'i and to his parents.

In San Diego, Kaui's university adventure is rather more successful than her brothers’, as her studies continue. However, she soon comes to realize that she is attracted to one of her female friends, Van, a girl she first met when Van offered her cocaine. Kaui doesn't understand her attraction to Van and, unable to cope with it, becomes confused. Like Dean, she repeats a pattern from high school, retreating into her studies and distancing herself from those around her.

Back in Hawai'i, Malia suggests that Noa should embark upon a spiritual quest into the Big Island, where he may be able to reconnect with the gods she believes have imbued him with his gifts. Soon after he sets out on his quest, however, contact from Noa ceases, and Malia begins to regret her decision, fearing that Noa is lost. She calls Dean, who comes back to Hawai'i to help her search.

The rescue operation continues for some time, but eventually Malia is told that there is no more funding to continue the search, as it now seems to be a lost cause. Dean, however, refuses to stop looking. Eventually he finds Noa's rucksack and hiking boots, indicating that Noa has been killed by a landslide. Dean is unable to cope with this realization and leaves Hawai'i again as soon as he can.

The impact of Noa's death on all members of the Flores family is profound. For Kaui, who had already begun finding it difficult to make connections with people, the incident serves to make her feel even more disconnected from life; she is unable to express her grief. Augie, on the contrary, expresses his grief too intensely, wailing and talking to himself, while Malia passionately attempts to make connections with Noa's spirit.

Noa had not returned to Hawai'i with the intention of staying permanently, so his possessions are still in his apartment in Portland. Malia is contacted by Noa's landlord, who says that unless the apartment is cleared, everything will be thrown away. This stimulates Dean and Kaui to go to Portland in order to clear the apartment. When they see each other, however, they suffer a cathartic emotional breakdown, sharing their feelings about Noa and deciding that they do not want to leave the last place he lived. This, however, leads them into difficulties with the police and Noa's landlord, and Dean is arrested and put in prison, having taken the blame for a car theft Kaui committed.

Kaui goes back to Hawai'i, unsure what else to do with herself. While Dean is in prison on the mainland, Kaui reconnects with her mother and decides to begin working on a friend's farm, which allows her to feel connected with the land and with her brother's spirit. She encourages her parents to come to the farm, too, and experience the power of the land, which seems to have a healing touch just like Noa had. Eventually, Dean, too, returns to Hawai'i, recognizing that his parents want their only surviving son back. The family open up with each other about the hurt feelings and hard times of the past and, at the end of the novel, have achieved a level of equilibrium.

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