Lost Kingdom: Hawaii's Last Queen, the Sugar Kings, and America's First Imperial Adventure

Lost Kingdom: Hawaii's Last Queen, the Sugar Kings, and America's First Imperial Adventure

by Julia Flynn Siler

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The New York Times–bestselling author delivers “a riveting saga about Big Sugar flexing its imperialist muscle in Hawaii . . . A real gem of a book” (Douglas Brinkley, author of American Moonshot).
Deftly weaving together a memorable cast of characters, Lost Kingdom brings to life the clash between a vulnerable Polynesian people and relentlessly expanding capitalist powers. Portraits of royalty and rogues, sugar barons, and missionaries combine into a sweeping tale of the Hawaiian Kingdom’s rise and fall.
At the center of the story is Lili‘uokalani, the last queen of Hawai‘i. Born in 1838, she lived through the nearly complete economic transformation of the islands. Lucrative sugar plantations gradually subsumed the majority of the land, owned almost exclusively by white planters, dubbed the “Sugar Kings.” Hawai‘i became a prize in the contest between America, Britain, and France, each seeking to expand their military and commercial influence in the Pacific.
The monarchy had become a figurehead, victim to manipulation from the wealthy sugar plantation owners. Lili‘u was determined to enact a constitution to reinstate the monarchy’s power but was outmaneuvered by the United States. The annexation of Hawai‘i had begun, ushering in a new century of American imperialism.
“An important chapter in our national history, one that most Americans don’t know but should.” —The New York Times Book Review
“Siler gives us a riveting and intimate look at the rise and tragic fall of Hawaii’s royal family . . . A reminder that Hawaii remains one of the most breathtaking places in the world. Even if the kingdom is lost.” —Fortune
“[A] well-researched, nicely contextualized history . . . [Indeed] ‘one of the most audacious land grabs of the Gilded Age.’” —Los Angeles Times

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780802194886
Publisher: Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
Publication date: 01/03/2012
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 480
Sales rank: 244,939
File size: 4 MB

About the Author

Julia Flynn Siler is an award-winning journalist. Her book, The House of Mondavi: The Rise and Fall of an American Wine Dynasty was a New York Times bestseller. She has written for Business Week and The New York Times, and is now a contributing writer for The Wall Street Journal in San Francisco. She lives in Northern California with her husband and sons.

Read an Excerpt


Born in Paradise, 1820–1843

On April 4, 1820, a small merchant vessel, the Thaddeus, carrying a group of Christian missionaries, arrived off the coast of the Hawaiian archipelago's biggest island, Hawai'i. The New Englanders' unwavering belief in the righteousness of their mission gave them the courage to undertake a dangerous, 164-day voyage from Boston.

The brig made its way through the treacherous Atlantic during the winter storm season, navigated the southernmost tip of South America, and then fought winds and high seas to make its way back up into the north Pacific. Fourteen members of missionary families were onboard, including the Reverend Hiram Bingham and Reverend Asa Thurston, as well as four Hawaiian youths.

Before setting off on this 18,000 mile journey, the missionaries gathered at the Park Street Church in Boston to receive their public instructions. Warned by one of the leaders of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions that they were headed to a pagan "land of darkness as darkness itself," their orders were clear. "You are to aim at nothing short of covering those Islands with fruitful fields, pleasant dwellings, schools, and churches."

The Americans hoped to bring what they considered progress to the islands while reaping the souls of the Sandwich Islanders. When they arrived, they were horrified by what they saw.

"The appearance of destitution, degradation, and barbarism among the chattering, almost naked savages, whose heads and feet and much of their sunburnt swarthy skin were bare, was appalling," wrote the Rev. Bingham. "Some of our numbers, with gushing tears, turned away from the spectacle. Others with firmer nerves continued their gaze, but were ready to exclaim: 'Can these be human beings?'" They soon overcame their disgust and sought and received permission from the chiefs to move into thatched houses, living alongside the natives.

Just a few months before their arrival, two powerful chiefesses had overthrown the kapu, the system of rules regulating Hawaiian life, by overtly disregarding the ancient law against women eating with men. At a feast in November, 1819, Alexander Liholiho, the young king who had assumed the throne as Kamehameha II after the death of his father, Kamehameha I, broke the ancient law against women eating with men by sitting down at their table. "The guests, astonished at this act, clapped their hands and cried out, 'Ai noa, — the eating tabu is broken.'"

That was just the first of the radical changes that Kamehameha II made. After the meal was over, he ordered the heiau, the places for worshipping the many gods of the old Hawaiian religion, destroyed. It seemed sudden, but this revolution within Hawaiian society had fomented long before that fateful meal. Cook's arrival had ended the islands' long isolation and, inevitably, Hawaiians began to see themselves differently. They had watched as foreigners disregarded the kapu with no ill effects. And they had observed that Pele did not unleash her fury on Hawaiians who dared to break the rules surreptitiously.

Thus, the Reverand Thurston and the other missionaries arrived just in time to fill a void in the Hawaiians' belief system. As Congregationalists who practiced an austere, Calvinist form of Christianity, they quickly spread out, settling in almost all parts of the island. They also brought heluhelu (reading and writing) to the islands for the first time.

Within a year and nine months of arriving, they'd given the Hawaiian language a twelve-letter alphabet (all the vowels — a e i o u — and a handful of consonants — h k l m n p w), introducing writing to an oral culture. Compared to the visiting whale men, who first arrived a year before the missionaries, in 1819, and only wanted pleasure from the Hawaiians after months at sea, the missionaries opened a wider world to them through education. By 1839 they had published the first complete Hawaiian-language Bible.

The first company of missionaries was soon joined by many more, including such passionate evangelists as Titus Coan, who began preaching in Hawaiian in the Hilo district on the island of Hawai'i, reducing hundreds of natives to crying, shouting and weeping at his descriptions of hellfire and promises of redemption. In short order, missionaries had established more than a dozen churches in the islands and won thousands of converts; even Kamehameha II himself became a Christian.

Was there ever a stranger match than that between the New England missionaries, dressed in tightly buttoned black, and the barely clad Polynesians? Did the missionaries fully grasp the fierce history of the Hawaiians or did they lump them in with the African slaves they encountered on the streets of Boston because of the dark color of their skin? Did they realize that the king was a descendant of people who had conquered the seas in canoes, and that his father was the great warrior who had unified the far-flung Hawaiian archipelago?

One missionary who grew close to the chiefs was Asa Thurston, who was assigned to head the mission at Kailua on Hawai'i Island, near the site of Captain Cook's death. There, he instructed the king and his brother on Christianity until the itinerant court moved on to Lahaina on the island of Maui and then to Honolulu on O'ahu. Like the other missionaries, Thurston and his family lived a life far removed from the relative comforts of New England, struggling to make ends meet. The family, for instance, went without butter so they could afford to buy a dictionary. Their plan backfired, though, for when the authorities of the missions discovered how they'd obtained the dictionary, they deducted its cost from Thurston's salary.

The missionaries may not have understood much about the Hawaiians when they first arrived, but they saw an opportunity for spiritual harvest. Sometime in late 1820 or early 1821, Thurston wrote to the mainland urging other missionaries to join the cause if they possessed a single-minded devotion to God: "We want men and women who have souls ... who have their eyes and their hearts fixed on the glory of God in the salvation of the heathen — who will be willing to sacrifice every interest but Christ's."

Such purity of purpose wouldn't last long in Hawai'i, however, especially among Thurston's own descendants.

Looming over Honolulu lies a geological oddity known as the Punchbowl, an extinct volcanic crater whose brilliant red soil stands out from the green skirts of the mountains. New England sailors gave the crater this nickname because its rounded shape reminded them of punch bowls they remembered from home. But to Hawaiians it was a sacred site known as Puowaina, "the hill of human sacrifices."

In a compound of grass houses at the base of the Punchbowl, where some of Hawai'i's ali'i, or high chiefs, lived, a baby was born on September 2, 1838. As the mother labored inside the windowless home, lying on mats braided from the bladelike leaves of the pandanus tree, men and women waited outside, reciting chants, oli, which traced the family's genealogy and described their ancestors' feats.

The infant emerged and began to cry. A midwife wrapped her in a soft blanket made from tree bark. The hut was filled with sweet and musky fragrances, including the coconut oil and turmeric that were often sprinkled on such cloth to give it a soft golden color.

The baby was a girl, later named Lili'u. Soon after the cries of the child were heard, gasps of a different sort were made. A few drops of rain had fallen from an otherwise cloudless sky and a rainbow had spanned the horizon. "Ali'i! Ali'i! That is the sign of our Ali'i!" the men cried out. Nature was signaling a propitious birth.

She was born during the time of year some islanders called Mahoe Hope,meaning "the time when the plumes of the sugarcane begin to unfurl from their sheaths." It was a significant coincidence, since Lili'u's life would be inextricably bound to the fortunes of Hawai'i's sugar trade.

Although Lili'u was born a high chiefess, with lineage that reached back to the high chiefs under Kamehameha the Great, at the time of her birth it would never have seemed possible she would someday become queen. And despite the appearance of a rainbow shortly after she was born, the full name she acquired foretold not a blessed life but one filled with pain. As was the tradition, she was named by the highest chiefess who, unfortunately, was suffering at the time from an eye infection. Marking the birth with her own complaint, the chiefess named her Lili'u (smarting) Loloku (tearful) Walania (a burning pain) Kamaka'eha (the sore eye.)

Bloodlines were crucial to Hawaiian society and elders scrutinized genealogy closely before a marriage to make sure that a partner of high rank was marrying an equal. Lili'u's social position rose soon after her birth, when she was adopted by chiefs of a higher rank than her own: Konia, a granddaughter of Kamehameha I, became her foster mother and Paki, a high chief and adviser to Kamehameha III, became her foster father. The couple's only daughter, Bernice Pauahi, became Lili'u's foster sister.

Lili'u was welcomed by Paki and Konia as part of a Hawaiian custom known as hanai. To strengthen family ties, newborns were sometimes given to close friends and relatives for adoption. The birth parents could not reclaim their child, except in the event of a death or serious illness on the part of the adoptive, or hanai, parents. They could, however, maintain a connection with the child by visiting and conferring with the adoptive parents over the child's welfare.

Lili'u adored her foster parents, particularly Paki. An imposing man at six foot four and three hundred pounds, Paki was a gentle giant, with a light complexion and reddish hair. At some point, a photographer captured an image of the enormous chief, looking somewhat uncomfortable in a dark, Western-style suit. Perhaps to display his wealth, a watch chain is looped from his vest and he holds out in front of him a walking stick topped with an ornamental knobbed handle.

Lili'u's feelings toward her adoptive father were much warmer than those for her biological parents. She recalled climbing on Paki's knees and putting her small arms around his neck, kissing and hugging him. He returned her affections and "caressed me as a father would his child," she later wrote. Yet when she met her biological parents, "it was with perhaps more interest, yet always with the demeanor I would have shown to any strangers who noticed me."

The practice of hanai was abhorrent to the New England missionaries, who discouraged it. But it continued anyway, reflecting not only a communal attitude toward child rearing but also a practical response to the rising incidence of infertility on the part of native Hawaiians.

It was a time when old Hawaiian customs were being swept away and new ones emerging to replace them. One sign of the changes was a flurry of activity on Punchbowl Street, not far from where Lili'u was born. Rising above the few square blocks of storefronts, taverns, and grog shops that then made up downtown Honolulu, an extraordinary structure, Kawaiaha'o church, arose out of blocks of buff-colored coral rock, weighing 200 to 1,200 pounds each. Native divers had quarried them from an offshore reef and then dragged them from the sea to the site of an ancient freshwater spring. Soaring above the palace and every other building in town was the first large Christian church to be built on O'ahu.

The child Lili'u was swept up in the Christian fervor. She was baptized at two and given the Christian name Lydia. She spent her earliest years with Konia and Paki in Lahaina on the island of Maui, the Hawaiian capital until the court moved permanently to Honolulu in 1845. Looked after by a Hawaiian nursemaid there, Lili'u as a toddler wandered one afternoon out of her hut, where she was supposed to be napping, and climbed onto a morning glory vine to swing. Losing her grip, she fell off, and her howls of pain sent her nursemaid running. Lili'u lay on the ground, writhing. She had broken a leg, which left her with a mild limp all her life.

Perhaps believing Lili'u needed closer supervision, she was sent by her parents to a boarding school on the neighboring island of O'ahu just before her fourth birthday. At the school, near the palace and the stone church at the eastern edge of Honolulu, American missionaries educated ali'i children, with the support of Kamehameha III and the chiefs.

Known as the Chiefs' Children's School, later renamed the Royal School, it was founded by Amos Starr Cooke and his wife, Juliette, in 1839. The modest mud-brick building, its rooms ringed a central courtyard. As the unlit streets of Honolulu grew dark in the evenings, the Cookes kept a lamp burning in the courtyard, setting out a beacon of light against what they saw as the sins and temptations of the rollicking port town.

The Cookes sought to protect their royal charges from bad influences by keeping them away from the rougher elements of Honolulu, as well as from their own people, whom they were allowed to visit for only short periods in the spring and fall. Honolulu, along with the port of Lahaina on the island of Maui, had become the Pacific base for the hundreds of ships that made up the American whaling fleet. As the kingdom's exports to China trailed off, trade with whalers took its place.

The first thing the land-sick sailors would hear after their ship entered Honolulu harbor was the eerie blow of the conch shell announcing their arrival. At the height of the whaling season, up to five hundred ships would anchor in the harbor at any one time and ships so crowded the port that it was possible to cross the harbor by jumping from one ship's deck to the next. A Hawaiian composed a song describing Honolulu's harbor crowded with masts, calling it "Ka Ulu La au o Kai," or "Forest Trees of the Sea."

As the ships disgorged hundreds of sailors onto the streets of the town, the languid port would roar to life with merchants hawking their wares and large groups of horseback riders kicking up dust. Merchants' tills clattered with English guineas, French double Louis, American eagles, Spanish doubloons, and even Russian ducats. The sailors' appetites drew them not only to taverns and shops but also to a special red-light district near the harbor, named Cape Horn.

But prostitution was not the only way lusty sailors found pleasure. Some were happily surprised to find that native women offered themselves up freely. The islanders even had a lighthearted word for this practice: moekolohe, or "mischievous sleeping." The result was a growing number of half Hawaiian, half white children, known as hapa haole. In Honolulu's schools, the skin colors of the students were often not just dark or light but somewhere in between.

Missionaries such as the Cookes and the Thurstons sought to counter the sexual exuberance of native Hawaiians by instilling modesty. Lucy Thurston joined with Hawai'i's dowager queen to start a sewing circle, stitching modest calico dresses for native women to wear. That and other efforts led to the adoption of the holoku, the form-concealing dresses (patterned on the Mother Hubbard gowns worn by the missionaries) that native women began to wear in the 1820s. That replaced tapa cloth wrapped around the hips and gathered at the waist, which left the breasts uncovered — a shocking state of undress, at least to some foreigners.

The aesthetics of the West also reached the draftsman's table. Honolulu and Hawai'i's other ports absorbed the West's culture and architectural styles, as tidy wood frame houses with white clapboard fronts rose alongside the Hawaiians' grass houses. Even the Chiefs' Children's School, where the missionaries were educating the next generation of chiefs, became a blend of the two cultures. The Cookes filled their parlor with furniture and knickknacks from New England, along with goods imported from China, within whitewashed adobe brick walls and beneath a thatched roof.

Literacy flowered in the kingdom. As the ali'i children learned from the Cookes, thousands of Hawaiian adults and children attended other schools, learning to read and write in Hawaiian and sometimes also in English. Lahainaluna, a high school on the island of Maui, produced the first generation of native Hawaiian journalists and historians working in the written word. This thirst for learning began with the king and the chiefs. Within two decades of the missionaries' arrival, Hawai'i had achieved one of the highest literacy rates in the world.

The routine of Lili'u's school days followed the pattern set by schools in New England. She and the other Hawaiian students started their day at 5 a.m. with morning devotions, receiving their instruction in English and attending Kawaiaha'o church every Sunday, sitting in a straight-backed pew near the king's. All of the students were required to take a temperance pledge, which the older boys, in particular, had difficulty keeping as drinking alcohol was pervasive among Hawaiians and haole alike. As well as studying from English textbooks, the students had more than sixty books that the missionaries had translated into Hawaiian, most of which had moral or practical lessons to impart, such as Pilgrim's Progress, Animals of the Earth, Geometry for Children, and tracts on marriage and intemperance.


Excerpted from "Lost Kingdom"
by .
Copyright © 2012 Julia Flynn Siler.
Excerpted by permission of Grove Atlantic, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Cast of Characters,
Chapter One: Born in Paradise,
Chapter Two: Progress and Liberty,
Chapter Three: Aloha,
Chapter Four: High Chiefs of Sugardom,
Chapter Five: Pele's Wrath,
Chapter Six: Merrie Monarch,
Chapter Seven: To England,
Chapter Eight: Bayonet Constitution,
Chapter Nine: Be Not Deceived,
Chapter Ten: Enemies in the Household,
Chapter Eleven: Pious Adventurers,
Chapter Twelve: Crime of the Century,
Chapter Thirteen: Secrets of the Flower Beds,
Chapter Fourteen: Kingdom Come,
Chapter Fifteen: Born Under an Unlucky Star,
A Note on Language and Sources,

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Lost Kingdom: Hawaii's Last Queen, the Sugar Kings and America's First Imperial Adventure 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 18 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
As a Hawaii born native hawaiian living on the mainland I was intrigued to see this new book. I bought it for my nook, and had to force myself to put it down. I was raised on the stories of the illegal overthrow of the monarchy, and the conflicts that followed. In my family the monarchy was always the good guy, but as usual when you delve more deeply into history, you find that they also contributed to their downfall. I enjoyed reading about the differant characters, and seeing their strenghts, and weaknesses.
Rusty-Spinner More than 1 year ago
A great read that was hard to put down, with the exception of the very annoying question marks (?) that appear throughout many of the Hawaiian names an words. Is this just and early Nook edition issue? Paid too much money to have this annoyance in an otherwise good book, and lowers my rating by at least one star.
Jack_Tamar More than 1 year ago
This is an A+ piece of work. It is well researched, thorough, but also easy to read. In reference to the ? that appear in the Hawaiian names on the nook version, they can be eliminated by changing the font type in the nook settings.
tammydotts on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
As America expanded beyond its original 13 colonies, almost all new states and territories were added through treaties, purchases or by claiming land the U.S. government felt no one owned. Texans will tell you their state was an independent country before annexation although Mexico refused to acknowledge its independence.Then there¿s Hawaii. The chain of islands, annexed in 1898, was originally a series of island kingdoms before being unified in 1810 under Kamehameha I after a series of battles. Seven kings and one queen ruled the island chain before the monarchy crumbled under an influx of foreigners who invested heavily in the country.Julia Flynn Siler¿s Lost Kingdom details the end of Hawaiian independence in a fact-filled book that falls just short of a must-read.The story of Hawaii¿s downfall is readymade for Hollywood ¿ kings and queens fighting for their people, villainous sugar-cane magnates, midnight coups, secret messages encoded in songs. The facts as Siler lays them out should be a more compelling read than they are. Perhaps Lost Kingdom¿s shortcomings are only apparent when judged against other history books, such as those by Erik Larsen. And it may be unfair to judge Siler¿s work against Larsen. The two writers have different styles, and a reader¿s personal preference may determine which comes out on top.Siler begins her tale of Hawaii before its last monarch, Queen Lili¿uokalani takes the throne. The book explains the Hawaiian acceptance of visiting missionaries and lays the groundwork for what should be a peaceful future.To the Hawaiians¿ detriment, the foreign population brings disease for which the native population has no natural defense. The native population begins to decrease as Europeans and Americans increase their numbers. Marriages between Hawaiians and outsides further dilute the native population.As children raised by missionaries come of age, economic forces begin to tug at Hawaii. The islands can grow sugar and foreign investors are quick to start building empires and making their fortunes. When the crown needs to borrow money, it is foreign loans that shore up the throne. And with those loans come requests for favors and political power.Siler portrays an almost inevitable march to Hawaii¿s subjugation to outside influence. By 1887, King Kal¿kaua is forced to sign what becomes known as the Bayonet Constitution. The new constitution moves power from the King to his cabinet and legislature. Foreign resident aliens could now vote as could Hawaiians who met economic and literacy requirements. Asian immigrants, who made up a substantial part of the islands¿ population, saw their right to vote taken away.Lost Kingdom wants to place Lili¿uokalani as its central figure, but history dictates other figures take center stage before Lili¿uokalani gains the throne. Siler is rightly fascinated by Hawaii¿s queen (whose authorship of one of Hawaii¿s most famous songs ¿Aloha Oe¿ is among her many accomplishments), but that fascination sometimes leads to a less detailed portrayal of other monarchs or the sugar barons. The book is not an objective look at Hawaii¿s history; Siler tells the story from Hawaii¿s point of view. Claus Spreckels, Lorrin Thurston and other foreigners are clear villains, motivated by profit and not caring about the Hawaiian people. After reading Lost Kingdom, it¿s hard to argue otherwise, particularly in the case of Thurston who seemed to take personal pleasure in destroying the monarchy. One suspects another side of the story exists.Lost Kingdom is a worthwhile read for those interested in Hawaiian history and culture, America¿s expansion and how less powerful governments and people can be swept away by an economic tide. It¿s not a perfect book and readers truly interested in Hawaii should seek out a more balanced book, but Siler¿s story is interesting.
Draak on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I found this book to be a fascinating look at Hawaiian history and the reign of Lili'uokalani and her family. Siler does such a good job with the characters and the story just seems to flow. If you are interested in Hawaii then this is the book for you. I won this from Goodreads.
dickmanikowski on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I'd known that Hawaii had been an independent country before becoming an American territory, and I can even remember when it became the 50th state. But I hadn't known the machinations behind the annexation.It's a complex story compressed into less than a century. The Kingdom of Hawaii was formed in 1810 when Kamahaha I unified first the Island of Hawaii and eventually all the Hawaiian Islands under a single government. Shortly after the Kingdom's establishment, Christian missionaries arrived and were highly successful in converting the native population. They were soon followed by entrepreneurs who recognized the value of the region's sugar cane to the burgeoning United States. By 1887, the monarchy was so far in debt to the sugar kings that King Kalakaua was forced to sign a new constitution that lessened his own power and the rights of the native Hawaiians.When his sister and successor, Queen Lili'uokalani announced in 1893 that she planned to implement a new constitution restoring those lost powers and rights, a group of businessmen of mainly European ancestry fomented a revolution to depose her and establish the Republic of Hawaii. But within five years, the new government engineered annexation by the United States rather than risk becoming part of either the British Empire or the growing German Empire.It's a fascinating story but, alas, a sloppily written book.
Copperskye on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
"They came to do good and did well."A fascinating and detailed narrative account of the final years of the Hawaiian Monarchy. Siler does a quick run through of the first western contact, Captain Cook, and then the arrival of the missionaries, who brought not only religion, but reading, writing and printing presses. Their decendants, however, had more commerce than God in mind, and big sugar, by various means, managed to eventually gain control of the islands. The book focuses on King Kalakaua, Claus Spreckels and the descendants of the missionaries, the passing of the Bayonet Constitution, the overthrow and imprisonment of Queen Lili'uokalani, and her final attempts to regain her throne and her Kingdom before the islands were eventually annexed by the US in 1898. A moving, sympathetic story, well told.
oldbookswine on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Having known little about Hawaii I found this to be an great history of a state. Beginning with the founding of the Sandwich Islands to 1917 and the death of the queen the history has been researched in depth. With the coming of Christian missionaries native Hawaiians begin to lose their culture and their kingdom. Much as was done to the Native American on the continent was done on the islands. Best line of the book " they came to do good and did well.Another look at the history not told in history classes, this time focusing on the sugar industry and shipping and the total disregard for the native culture and society. Recommended
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A very detailed, heartbreaking tale about the ending of Old Hawaii and its traditional chief system, at the treacherous hands of the United States. At times, the writing was textbook like but the emotional nature of the situation prevailed....and tears were always close to the surface. A must read!!!
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My place is nect result
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
No poyo. *the penguin with its wizard hat on studies alex* penguin poyo.