When I went to Costa Rica, I brought three books. I was gone for a week, so the original plan was to bring 4. However, apart from reading on the plane and while waiting around in airports, I didn’t read that much when I was there. It was hot, there was lots of sand, and there was too much to do!
Before I left, I took a trip with a friend to the bookstore to stock up. I ended up going on a teen-lit kick, buying Anna dressed in Blood, Alice in Zombieland and Vampire Academy. While other people at the yoga retreat were reading books about finding inner peace, I had books about a ghost, zombies and vampires.
I did buy another book as well. When I picked it up and decided to buy it, my friend said “Really? Lepers?” What can I say, I was intrigued.
The book was Moloka’i, by Alan Brennert. I didn’t end up reading it while I was in Costa Rica. I started it yesterday and finished it this morning. Yes, it’s one of those books. You, know, the kind that draws you in, shutting out the rest of the world. It broke my heart, it made me smile and I now need to go to Hawaii.
It tells the story of Rachel, a young girl living in Honolulu in 1891. She’s 5 years old and she loves to ask questions, which drives most of the adults in her life quite crazy! One day, her uncle Pono is arrested on suspicion of being a leper. He is sent to Kalihi, a hospital, where he is kept in quarantine. Just as the family is starting to get over the shock and shame of having a relative with leprosy, Rachel’s mother finds a pink blemish on the little girl’s thigh.
Her mother tries everything she can to cure her daughter, while keeping it a secret. Hawaiians, at that time in history, were quickly dying of diseases brought over by haoles, white people. Having never been in contact with these germs, they had no immunity against them. Not much was know about leprosy, except that it was contagious.
Rachel is eventually found out, and sent to Kalihi, where she reunites with her uncle Pono. Small, afraid, and separated from her family, Rachel is poked and prodded by doctors for a year before they decide they cannot help her and she must be sent away to a leper colony on Moloka’i. She is ripped from the only life she has ever know and sent to an island where she expects to die.
When she arrives, however, she discovers a world apart from anything she has ever known. Her life is not always easy, but it is a life worth living. She watches friends die and her body being taken over by the bug. She loves, she grieves, but most importantly, she lives.
This book was so well written. It informative without being boring. I have long been fascinated by leprosy, and learning about it through the story of people’s lives was much more interesting than reading a textbook. The beginning of the story was intriguing, the middle captivating and the ending satisfying. If you’re looking for your next book to read, here it is.