Moloka’i by Alan Brennert: Book Review

I have an affiliate relationship with and Malaprop's Bookstore in beautiful Asheville, NC. I will earn a small commission at no additional cost to you if you purchase merchandise through links on my site. Read more on my affiliate page.

4 Stars

Seven-year-old Rachel Kalama is living in Honolulu in 1893. Her life is punctuated with a child’s hopes and dreams and drama. Her father is a sailor, and she loves it when he comes home on leave, mostly because she’s excited to see him, but also because she loves to hear his stories about the wider world and for the exotic dolls he brings home to her. Then she’s diagnosed with leprosy. Native Hawaiians are incredibly susceptible to the disfiguring, deadly disease. To prevent the spread, all who are diagnosed are sent to Kalaupapa, a lepers’ colony on the island of Moloka’i.

This sounds a little depressing. Seven-year-old girl sent away from all her friends and family to await death. But Rachel is stronger than that.

She is lucky that has a very strong resistance to the disease, and she has a form that is slow-moving anyway. She has a hard time at first (who wouldn’t in her shoes?) but she forms her own family in the colony, and she chooses to live.

I loved her. I loved that she never gave up hope, that she lived a life that was as normal as it could be, she loved to read, she loved to surf, and she loved her chosen family. I loved that as she grew older she fought hard for improvements to conditions in the colony. She was a heart of this community. She always dreamed of and longed for the wider world. When something happens in her life that would have broken many women, she hurt but she kept on hoping. I missed her when I finished this book.

Rachel was the biggest draw of the book for me, but I also enjoyed reading about this part of history. I had never heard about it until I came across a brief mention of the lepers’ colony in our guide book when we went to Hawaii. To think that we did that to children and families. *Shudders* I know that there had to be some sort of isolation to slow the spread of the disease, but I can’t imagine being ripped away from my family like that. There had to have been a better way.

I enjoyed the descriptions of Hawaii and life in the islands. We went on our honeymoon. We didn’t go to Moloka’i but I still felt like I was revisiting a place I loved as I read these descriptions. Hawaii is one of the few places that we consistently talk about going back to.

Highly recommended for those who like their heroines strong and who love a tropical, historical setting.

My Character Connection post featuring Rachel.

Read an excerpt.

Find author Alan Brennert on his website.

Read for Bookish Ardour’s Off the Shelf Challenge.

Buy Moloka’i at

I have an affiliate relationship with Malaprop’s, my local independent bookstore, and Better World Books. I will receive a small commission at no cost to you if you purchase books through links on my site.

Other Posts You May Enjoy:


  1. I loved this one so much! I want to read Honolulu at some point. I had it from the library last month but couldn't find the time to read it.

  2. A few years ago this book was picked by my book club. I was working 80+ hours a week and just could not read it, as at that time the only reading I could manage was audiobooks while driving to my next appointment and there was no audiobook of this title. There was however an audio of Colony by John Tayman, a nonfiction account of the exact same leprosy colony. So at the meeting that month, while I wasn't able to talk about the characters, I was able to give historical background, and tell them which characters were real and which weren't, and what happened to the colony after the end of the book. If you're interested, I do recommend that book.

  3. I loved this book too, and Rachel has stayed in my mind as well. Moloka'i is one of those books that sneak up on you… I find myself wanting to re-read it, and I've only just finished it! I also never re-read books (or very rarely do, anyway).

    Thanks for this great review and your comment on my review of this book!

  4. i got so hooked on this one when I read it. I also read Honolulu, but although it was good, I like this one better.

  5. I have had this one on my shelf forever and haven't read it yet. I may have to get to it soon. It sounds fantastic!

I love to hear from you! Please contact me (menu bar, above) if you're having trouble commenting.