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Date of this Version



Published in MultiCultural Review (March 2003), v. 12, no. 1: 101. Copyright 2003, Goldman Group. Used by permission.


The leper colony on the Hawaiian island of Molokai has been covered in a number of books over the years, both fiction and nonfiction, many focusing on the efforts of Father Damien of Belgium, who sacrificed his own health to improve the conditions of the exiles. This latest volume is written from the perspective of a 12-year-old Hawaiian girl, Liliha, who contracts the disease from her cruel grandmother, and the novel is set in the years before Father Damien arrived at the colony in 1873. Before his arrival, there was anarchy, little food for the inhabitants, no health care, and no shelter. In this depiction, little detail is spared of the horrors of leprosy and the terror of lawlessness, though it shows that even a resourceful child was able to rise above many of the tremendous hardships. This is a first novel. The book is well written and engaging and would be of interest to young readers. While the story is unambiguously moralistic, it is light-handed and somewhat unconventional. That Liliha must grapple with serious ethical issues as well as fend for hers elf in every way may resonate with modern teens who, increasingly, have to deal with hardships of their own, including the fear of violence and split families.