Cover image for Heads by Harry
Heads by Harry
Yamanaka, Lois-Ann, 1961-
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1999.
Physical Description:
311 pages ; 22 cm
Format :


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The author's novel tells the story of the Yagyuu family, who lives in Hilo above Heads by Harry, the family's taxidermy shop. Every day a group of opinionated old futs from the neighborhood gathers outside Harry O's shop, where they discuss everyone in town (loudly) & drink beer & eat smoked meat into the pau hana hours. Back at home, things aren't quite as simple. Toni Yagyuu, the middle child, wanders through life in the shadow of her flamboyant big brother, Sheldon, who prefers the name Shelly & whose penchant for cosmetology causes Harry O. much consternation. Their younger sister, Bunny, is a provocative beauty & budding diva. At the heart of their rivalry is a small town catch extraordinaire, Maverick Santos, football star & pig hunter for the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Maverick's older brother, Wyatt, is swaggering, macho thug who may be far more tender than he appears. Caught in the center of every conflict, Toni must choose between college life, the strange beauty of taxidermy, & the gore of the hunt. Graphic, compassionate, & brutally funny, Heads by Harry completes Yamanaka's haunting & memorable trilogy on growing up in Hawaii.

Author Notes

Lois-Ann Yamanaka is the author of Wild Meat and the Bully Burgers (FSG, 1996), Blu's Hanging (FSG, 1997), and Heads by Harry (FSG, 1999). Recipient of a 1998 Lannan Literary Award and the 1998 Asian American Literary Award, she lives in Honolulu, Hawaii.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Yamanaka's novels possess a unique and riotous energy as they conjure Hawaii's spiky cultural brew that roils within the green embrace of a gorgeous and vulnerable land. This tale completes the trilogy that began with Wild Meat and the Bully Burgers (1996) and Blu's Hanging (1997), a coming-of-age series unparalleled for its fresh, funky language, honest and earthy characters, and mesmerizing predicaments. Heads by Harry is a taxidermist's shop on Mamo Street in Hilo, Hawaii, and the stage for a riveting family drama as Harry O. and Mary Alice's three feisty and independent children struggle toward adulthood. Sheldon, who is not only gay but seriously into cosmetology, infuriates his macho father. Bunny, the younger daughter, is beautiful and manipulative, and Toni, everyone's scapegoat and Yamanaka's compelling heroine, is happiest out hunting with her father. As this competitive trio muddle through various treacherous initiations, their near epic flounderings entertain their neighbors and relatives who gather nightly to eat, drink, and offer vulgar and affectionate commentary. When Yamanaka has Toni describe her mother as generating a "biting, blunt, local kind of love," she defines the essence of this keen comedy of bad manners and grand accommodation, of deep love and a profound sense of home. --Donna Seaman

Publisher's Weekly Review

This frank and poetic tragicomic novel completes Yamanaka's trilogy (Wild Meat and the Bully Burgers; Blu's Hanging) about growing up in Hawaii. As in the previous books, the narrator's distinctive voice conveys a cultural climate as well as a story of adolescent angst and survival. Toni Yagyuu's Japanese-American, lower-middle-class family generates and harbors conflict and disenchantment. Toni is the middle child, sandwiched between popular, successful siblings: Sheldon, her homosexual older brother, and Bunny, her conventionally pretty younger sister. Sheldon and Bunny have their selfishness in common and, with cruel nonchalance, invariably take each other's sides against lonely Toni. She is closest to her father, Harry O., who runs Heads by Harry, a taxidermy shop in Hilo. Although Toni aspires to take over the business, Harry O. would rather apprentice neighborhood youths Maverick and Wyatt Santos. Toni and her siblings yearn for handsome Maverick, but Toni always seems to be thrown together with crude, uneducated Wyatt, whose federal job hunting pigs seems to suit his personality. Harry O. has bigger plans for his children‘college, preferably business degrees. Sheldon and Bunny manage to bluff and party their ways through college, but Toni is overwhelmed; she flunks out and returns home a failure. She despairingly explores a sexual relationship with Wyatt Santos and then falls humiliatingly in love with a "haole" six years her junior. Yet stouthearted Toni finds a hardy strain of unconditional love amid her family's painful disavowals and her diminished expectations. Her integrity and individuality are affirmed in a touching denouement. Yamanaka infuses her characters' pidgin English, their often coarse dialogue and their sometimes brutal behavior with gut-level poetry and fresh vernacular. With this stirring novel, the potency and honesty of Yamanaka's view of Hawaiian life achieves the haunting force of myth. First serial to A. magazine and Poets & Writers; author tour. (Feb.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

The daughter of a taxidermist, 16-year-old Toni Yagyuu narrates the latest novel from Yamanaka (Blu's Hanging, LJ 3/1/97) about growing up in Hawaii. Toni will be the first person to tell you that life on the islands is no paradise. Members of her loving but dysfunctional family include an older brother who has difficulty dealing with his sexual identity and a younger, strikingly beautiful sister who vies for the attention of everyone around her. The siblings grow older, eventually moving away and living together in a meager apartment while attending college. Toni's own story is complex and filled with angst. She struggles with many of life's disappointments, including poor grades, alcohol and drug addiction, and an unplanned pregnancy. Yamanaka's writing is emotionally gripping and filled with harsh realism but at the same time liberally sprinkled with sensitivity and humor. Fans of her work will not be disappointed. Recommended for large fiction, Asian American, and young adult collections.‘Shirley N. Quan, Orange Cty. P.L., Stanton, CA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.