My in-laws lived on O'ahu for a number of years so I was lucky enough to travel to Hawaii 4 times and able to visit the main islands on those trips. I never made it to Moloka'i though I was always intrigued by the history.
Anyone who has been to Hawai'i has probably heard that Moloka'i used to be a leper colony and that is the focus of this story. It's historical fiction starting in the late 1800s in Honolulu. It tells the story of Hawai'i through the Kalama family (but mostly the daughter Rachel).
Rachel contracts leprosy at the age of 7 and after a quarantine on O'ahu she is transferred to Moloka'i. On O'ahu she was still able to have her family visit on occasion, moving to Moloka'i makes visits difficult and expensive . Upon arriving on Moloka'i, Rachel sees leprosy patients who are far more advanced in the illness than she is. She is both repelled and scared of them, as she hadn't seen anyone so advanced in the illness before and worries about her own future.
Over time Rachel settles in to the routine of the hospital and befriends some of the nuns working as nurses. She is both fortunate and unfortunate to have a very slow progression of the disease so sees people younger than her pass, but also forms strong bonds with some of the long term residents of the island (healthy and not).
While children are required to stay in the hospital until they are 18, after that they are allowed to leave the hospital as long as they stay on the island. Not long after Rachel is allowed a little more freedom, a young Japanese/Hawaiian arrives on the island. They fall in love but are still exiled from their families and have a hard time feeling that their lives are complete.
I always enjoy well researched historical fiction, and this was one of those books. While Rachel does have a rough life, this is not a depressing book. There is humor, and the compassion displayed by many of the characters is heart warming.