The Islands at the End of the World

Book review by
Darienne Stewart, Common Sense Media
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Strong heroine, spirituality anchor gripping eco-thriller.

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Kids say

age 11+
Based on 1 review

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The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

The story is steeped in Hawaiiana: The culture, language, ecology, history, and geography infuse the storytelling at every turn. The thoughtful narrative touches upon ecosystems, migration patterns, invasive species, economic theory, literature, comparative religion, and more.

Positive Messages

In the darkest times, there are moments of generosity and humanity. Lei and her father try to maintain their moral compass as they navigate frightening circumstances. On Molokai, the community’s religious leader strives to maintain a peaceable community. A key theme is sustainability: The islands that are most dependent on resources from the mainland and tourism dollars quickly fall apart, while the one that has made an effort to be self-sustaining is less frayed by the lack of power. A former nemesis embraces Lei, happy to find her safe. Family, tradition, and faith are celebrated.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Lei is a balanced, resourceful heroine. She tries to help those in need to the best that she’s able. Her father is loyal and patient and appreciates his daughter’s strength and insight. Aukina, a security guard who befriends Lei, is a welcome light in the dark, and the religious leader Akoni is a warm, thoughtful character with an intriguing spiritual perspective.


Once the power goes out and nerves start to fray, Lei and her father are in nearly constant danger from soldiers, native Hawaiians, other desperate refugees, a power-hungry sheriff, and others. They’re pursued by dogs, shot at, deprived of food and supplies, and betrayed. One character is shot and wounded. They hear and see gunfire, witness burning bodies, and encounter a woman slain by an arrow.  



The owner of a boat intimates that he'd allow Lei and her dad to use his boat in exchange for sexual favors.



The apparent end of the world as we know it triggers some stress-induced cursing, including "a--hole," "apes--t," "rat's ass,"​ "​dammit," "son of a bitch," "damned," "hell," "Christ," and "goddammit."


There are a few references to brands including Costco, Civic, Spam, Snickers, Rolex, Timex, and Cheetos, and pop culture references to John Denver, The Brady Bunch, Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure, Groundhog Day, and District 9.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Lei's father crafts a makeshift bong and convinces her to join him in smoking marijuana after they chance upon a field of plants in the jungle. Lei reluctantly gives in and tries pot for the first time -- and ends up having an epiphany about the cause of the global crisis.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Islands at the End of the World is a haunting eco-thriller that explores humanity's savage side when people are isolated and frightened. Simmering ethnic resentment leads to brutal executions by roving gangs, and power-hungry people seize the opportunity to bully their way to the top of the heap. Lei and her father are nearly killed several times as the islands plunge into chaos, and they witness shootings and dead bodies. Father and daughter reluctantly resort to underhanded means -- including stealing and wielding a weapon -- for self-preservation. That said, there are touching moments of humanity, particularly Lei's encounter with a guard at a camp and a spiritual leader trying to help his community meet the challenges of a tech-free world with generosity, compassion, and faith. Spirituality is a strong thread, mingling both Christian tenets and traditional Hawaiian beliefs. Lei's dad talks her into trying pot as a respite during their arduous journey. Some stress-induced cursing includes "a--hole," "son of a bitch," "damned," "hell," "Christ," and "goddammit." There's a planned sequel, The Girl at the Center of the World.

User Reviews

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Kid, 11 years old February 24, 2016

Good Book

WARNING: MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS. Leilani, the main character, would do anything to get her father and herself back home to her family, after all electronics and c... Continue reading

What's the story?

Sixteen-year-old Leilani is half-white, half-Hawaiian, and a relative newcomer to the Big Island, but she feels rooted there. Her classmates, however, disdainfully regard her as an outsider -- and it doesn't help that she's prone to epileptic seizures. But when she and her dad are stranded on Oahu after a mysterious global power outage, their mixed heritage has even more troubling ramifications: As resources dwindle, some locals begin hunting down non-natives. Lei and her father escape a military camp and dodge arrows, dogs, and bullets on a desperate journey across the islands toward home. Along the way, Lei realizes that her strange, dreamlike seizures may be tied to the global crisis -- and she just might be the one person who can save the world.

Is it any good?

THE ISLANDS AT THE END OF THE WORLD is a riveting, beautifully written first novel by Austin Aslan. His background in biology and geography and his passion for Hawaii’s history and traditions transform this from just another apocalyptic fantasy into a nuanced meditation on our relationship with our history, our present, and our future on this planet. Lei is a terrific heroine: She seems an ordinary girl in extraordinary circumstances, but her compassion and desire for normalcy help her surmount daunting obstacles. The relationship between father and daughter is touching and authentic. The violence is often startling and sometimes gruesome, and the collapse of civility seems frighteningly realistic.

Aslan brews a satisfying mystery by pulling together bits of Hawaiian mythology and Christian beliefs, a splash of science fiction, and a few classic apocalyptic scenarios, all grounded in ecology. Setting the story in Hawaii is convenient -- what place could be more cut off from the rest of the globe? But Aslan takes it much further, letting Hawaii's complexities serve as a microcosm of the larger world. It's an intriguing tale for anyone who loves the Hawaiian Islands -- but it might be best to read it after your holiday in paradise.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the popularity of apocalyptic tales. Why are end-of-the-world scenarios so enduring as a dramatic setup?


  • Hawaii is romanticized and idealized as a paradise. Does this book change the way you view the Islands and the people who live there?

  • How do you think your community would react to a crisis like the one in The Islands at the End of the World? Would the balance of power change?

Book details

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For kids who love thrillers and science fiction

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