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The Descendants Book Summary and Study Guide

Detailed plot synopsis reviews of The Descendants


A man tries to discipline his somewhat estranged and rebellious daughters while dealing with the impending death of his coma stricken wife. Matthew King is a wealthy attorney in Hawaii. Though he has made his own money as a prominent attorney, a great deal of his wealth he inherited from his ancestors. Half-Polynesian and half-white, Matthew and his family are descended from a Hawaiian princess. Due to his ancestral prominence, his family owns a large and beautiful swath of land. While Matthew owns a nice house and a nice car and seems to have good friends and a thriving professional career, his personal life is in shambles. His beautiful and daredevil wife, Liz, is on life support after a boating accident. Matthew spends most of his time at the hospital but still finds it difficult and taxing as he and his wife had become strangers due to Matt's extreme focus on his job. One day Matt gets the news that his wife is not going to come out of the coma and is advised to take her off life support. He heavyheartedly agrees. His next task is to gently break the news to his 10 year old daughter Scottie. Before his wife's accident, Matthew was not a very prominent figure in Scottie's life; he was not very active in being a disciplinary parent as he was quite involved with his career. Now, Matthew finds that not only does he have no idea how to talk to Scottie but she is attention hungry and a bully at school. He decides that it is necessary to get his 17 year old daughter from the mainland and bring her home to help him deal with Scottie and the rest of his family as he breaks the news of his wife's condition. He and Scottie arrive at his daughter Alexandria's boarding school late at night only to find that she is not in her dorm. A school adviser leads him on a search through the school and they find Alexandria out past curfew drinking with a friend. Disappointed but determined, he flies the three of them back home and then tells Alexandria that her mother is actually going to be taken off of life support and he needs her help this weekend in controlling Scottie and letting the rest of their family and friends know. Alexandria naturally becomes upset and then reveals to her father that she had caught her mother having an affair. This is a slap in the face to Matthew but he decides to press on and do what needs to be done despite the development. Matthew and the girls spend the weekend visiting his wife's family and letting them know that they should visit the hospital to say goodbye to her. As an added stress, Matthew's cousins are currently trying to convince him to accept an offer for the land left to them by their ancestors, of which Matthew is in control. On the one hand, Matt feels the pressure from his cousins to sell the land so that it can be developed and the money can be distributed equally among his cousins. On the other hand, he feels like his ancestors would be disappointed in him were he to give up the beautiful land to developers. Deciding to put off the decision, he and his daughters decide to track down his wife's lover because Matthew feels it is the right thing to do. Despite his wife's betrayal, he thinks that the lover would want to know about his wife's condition so that he can say goodbye as well. They find out that the man is a prominent real estate buyer, and track him down to a resort. They stalk him for a few days and find that the man has a wife and children. Matthew decides he won't make a scene with the man's wife and simply informs the man that he knows he was sleeping with his wife and that he should visit her in the hospital to say goodbye. With that, Matthew and his daughters leave the resort and head back home in order to say good bye to Matthew's wife who is close to death. While the family spends the last day with Liz, Liz's lover's wife shows up at hospital. She confesses that she felt something was wrong with her husband and managed to get the lie out of him and even though she was hurt by the betrayal she felt it was right that he say goodbye to Liz. He had decided not to come though and so she came in his stead. She ends up pouring out her heart and crying over Liz's deteriorating body, so much so that Matthew finally thanks her for coming and ushers her out of the room. Finally and without much fanfare, Liz finally passes away. Following her death, Matthew reflects on the state of his relationship with his daughters; how much it has changed in the short weekend and how much it still needs to grow in the future. This thought causes him to finally reflect on how to handle the land acquisition. He thinks on how it is the last tie to his ancestors and how important and beneficial growing up and learning to appreciate the land will be for his daughters. He decides that he, as the majority landowner will not all the land to be sold and developed and brings this decision up with his cousins. Initially, his cousins were very much for the sale of the land as they had squandered their own fortunes some time ago. Surprisingly, though they admit they are unhappy with Matthew's decision, they agree to his terms. The book ends with Matthew looking ahead to the future. Though he still has a long way to go in repairing his relationship with his daughters and becoming in active participant in his own life again, he decides that he will make them his priority instead of his work as had been the case in the past.
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Best part of story, including ending: I liked how the story deals with such heavy topics such as teenage drug abuse, the death of a loved one and neglect with honesty and a bit of humor.

Best scene in story: My favorite scene was when Liz's lover's wife comes to the hospital in order to pay her respects. She was such a minor character but I thought that was a great moment when she ended up crying over Liz's body, forgiving her. It was as much for Liz's benefit as it was for her own peace of mind.

Opinion about the main character: I liked that Matthew was genuinely trying to do right by everyone while coming to terms with his own shortcomings as a husband and father. He deals with self-revelations with self-deprecation but also wills himself to do and be better which is admirable.

The review of this Book prepared by Kyle Spencer a Level 3 Eurasian Jay scholar

Chapter Analysis of The Descendants

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Plot & Themes

Time/era of story    -   2000+ (Present Day) Family, struggle with    -   Yes Struggle with:    -   Daughter Family, caring for ill    -   Yes Who is sick?    -   wife because he/she is    -   physically ill Is this an adult or child's book?    -   Adult or Young Adult Book

Main Character

Gender    -   Male Profession/status:    -   a lawyer creature Ethnicity/Nationality    -   White (American) Unusual characteristics:    -   Extremely cynical or arrogant

Setting

How much descriptions of surroundings?    -   7 () Island?    -   Yes Small town?    -   Yes Misc setting    -   resort/hotel

Writing Style

Amount of dialog    -   roughly even amounts of descript and dialog

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Kaui Hart Hemmings Books Note: the views expressed here are only those of the reviewer(s).
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