Leilani lives in Hilo, on the Big Island of Hawaii. Although her mother is Native Hawaiian, her father is white, and the family had been living in California for most of Leilani’s childhood. She’s not accepted at her public high school, partly because of her race, and partly because of the epileptic seizure that felled Leilani in the school cafeteria. It’s because of her epilepsy that Leilani and her father are flying from the Big Island to Honolulu, on the island of Oahu. As they prepare to travel, her father reenacts a family joke by singing John Denver’s Leavin’ on a Jet Plane. Fathers can be so hokey sometimes.
But while Leilani and her father are in Honolulu, the world goes berzerk. A strange green haze appears in the sky. Communication networks collapse. There are reports of nuclear power plants exploding across the globe. Soon enough, Leilani and her dad are ensconced in a makeshift camp run by the military, and the trip back to Hilo becomes a matter of life and death.
John Denver wrote Leavin’ on a Jet Plane in 1966, originally calling it Babe, I Hate to Go. Although Denver did make his own recording of the song, it was more famously recorded by the folk group Peter, Paul & Mary. Their single was released in 1969, in the midst of Vietnam war protests. It’s wistful message of regret and tenderness touched many soldiers longing to reunite with loved ones.
Here are Peter, Paul & Mary with John Denver in 1969.
Diane Colson, currently reading The Hit by Melvin Burgess.