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A Story of the Hawaiian Leper Colony

by Lisa Cindrich

Age Range: 10 - 14

Pub Date: June 1st, 2001
ISBN: 0-399-23855-7
Publisher: Putnam

Liliha, 12, is sent to the Kalaupapa Leprosy Colony on the island of Molokai toward the end of the 19th century. Life for most of the lepers is a dog-eat-dog existence with the strongest members in control of the distribution of the scant food, shelter, and care because there is no conscientious and caring superintendent. (Before religious leaders exemplified by Father Damien came to the island in 1873, basic human needs were absent except for the help of a few good souls.) When the occasional sailing craft arrives with supplies and new patients, only the strong are able to grab the food and distribute it as they see fit. Liliha, ever strong and inventive, develops methods to extend the meager supplies by fishing, carving bowls, spoons, and other items to trade. Eventually, she is victorious over her enemy, an older woman in an advanced stage of the disease, who has ruled the place with unbelievably cruel and destructive acts designed to cement her power. Since the groundwork is not well established, readers may wonder what causes Liliha to become a Christian, showing mercy and love—even to her enemy—at the conclusion. This could have been a stronger story had the characters of the good, especially the protagonist, not been quite so good, and the characters of the bad, not quite so bad. But the setting and the details of the terrible disease when there were no remedies except exclusion will hold readers, who will empathize with the characters and root for Liliha and her friends, although they know that she will die a terrible death. Contains a map (not seen), a list of Hawaiian words, and a full and interesting historical note. (Fiction. 10-14)