Running from Moloka`i

Written by Jill P. Anderson
Review by J. Lynn Else

“At one moment we are being defined, and in the next moment we are defining.”

Honolulu, 1884. Mele has always believed her father, a white physician, can fix anything. When she starts public school, however, she sees the impact of a dreadful disease sweeping through her nation: leprosy. While her father’s blood gives her an immunity to the disease, Mele begins to question her father’s role in sending those affected by the disease to the Moloka’i leper colony. As families are ripped apart, children torn from their mothers’ arms, witnessing the fate of a boy she’s never met flips Mele’s sheltered world upside-down and calls her to take action.

Running from Moloka’i is the strongly felt coming-of-age story about Mele, a 15-year-old girl who faces hard truths about how her culture is being treated by men who look like her father. The main and side characters are all struggling with or affected by some aspect of this disease process, making each person an important and captivating piece of the overall narrative. Torn between a white father and a Hawaiian mother, Mele provides a compassionate narrative voice as she struggles to reconcile the part she should play in her dual world. The setting is charming and vivid. The narrative is pleasantly saturated with Hawaiian culture, particularly with regard to prose construction, illustrating a sublime respect for cultural rituals and ideals. Shining a light upon the injustices Hawaiian people suffered due to the leprosy outbreak and colonization, Anderson brings to life an emotional story of sacrifice, hope, and family. Highly recommended.