June 21, 2008
The book Moloka'i by Alan Brennert is set in old Honolulu, Hawaii in the late 1800s to the mid-1900s. This startling story features young Rachel Kalama as a normal 5-year-old girl; playing with her friends, buying sweets from the local store, and awaiting the return of her traveling father. One day, her mother, Dorothy Kalama, spies a rose-colored spot that does not respond to pain and wont heal. Nerveless spots are a sign of leprosy, a vicious disease spreading ever since white men came to the islands, exposing the immunity-free Hawaiins to the illness. She manages to keep the spot a secret for a long time, until Rachel's sister accidentally lets it slip. Rachel is shipped off to Kalaupapa, the leper colony, without her friends, or family. After refusing to reach out to anyone, she is sent to an all girls Christian school that promises to take care of her. Rachel feels trapped in this prison of a facility. She loses all the friends she had made to leprosy. Drowning in loneliness, she develops a close relationship with her adopted "family" which consists of Sister Catherine, a troubled nun who is searching for answers about God and her life choice, Haleola, her uncle Pono's fierce lover, her friend Leilani, who is not what she seems to be, and her husband Kenji. The fact that her disease progresses slowly allows Rachel to live a long time, into her teenage years and far past marriage. Rachel has to endure the taunting and how people react to her when they learn she is a leper. She searches for a cure so she may see her father, Henry, again and the mother and siblings who mysteriously abandoned her. Despite the tragic and unfortunate circumstances, this is a heartwarming story of the power of friendship and the determined will of Rachel Kalama in a leper colony in old Hawaii. A beautiful book that is a must read.

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