Waking Up in Eden chronicles a true island romance: the story of a single woman falling head over heels for the beauty and wonder of her new Kauai home.
Single 40-something woman craving a change leaves behind her seemingly picture-perfect life in Philadelphia to move to Hawaii? The setup oozes romantic possibility, and the moment Fleeson says she can’t escape the feeling that a solitary woman is a “dried-up celibate,” I started praying this memoir of her time in Kauai wouldn’t involve a trip to the altar. The good news is that, despite the fairy-tale setting, Waking Up in Eden isn’t about living happily ever after. The bad news: in the absence of romance, the book lacks a compelling central narrative thread. Fleeson grasps at storylines—she recounts the history of Kauai’s National Tropical Botanical Garden, where she works; she compares her Hawaiian adventure to Victorian female traveler Isabella Lucy Bird’s; and she explores the challenges to survival facing so many of Hawaii’s endangered indigenous plants. She also joins a competitive women’s canoe club, restores a plantation cottage, assists at a traditional luau, adopts a stray cat, and plants a garden of her own. Fleeson definitely comes across as a strong, independent woman who was invigorated by her stay in Kauai, but unfortunately, her myriad anecdotes about island living pair only roughly with the tome’s sections of reportage, making the book feel slightly unfocused. Yet, Fleeson’s writing succeeds in evoking Hawaii’s exotic grandeur, as well as the efforts to preserve the state’s unique botanical attributes. If nothing else, the book will have you obsessively checking flight prices to the tropics.