Last year my brother moved to Hawaii to start his master’s degree, so when that happened I kind of had my radar up for books set or about there. Moloka’i by Alan Brennert was popping up all over book blogs, so I knew I had to read it to get my Hawaii fix. From Goodreads:

Rachel Kalama, a spirited seven-year-old Hawaiian girl, dreams of visiting far-off lands like her father, a merchant seaman. Then one day a rose-colored mark appears on her skin, and those dreams are stolen from her. Taken from her home and family, Rachel is sent to Kalaupapa, the quarantined leprosy settlement on the island of Moloka’i. Here her life is supposed to end—but instead she discovers it is only just beginning.

I really enjoyed Moloka’i. From the cover image I sort of worried it might be a YA (which is not my thing), but I was pleasantly surprised and hooked after about 50 pages in. I thought the characters were all developed so well and wholly memorable—from Rachel’s family members, to Sister Catherine, to Leilani and Kenji—and even minor characters in between. I really loved how Brennert steeped his fictional characters so seamlessly in actual history, even basing some of them on real people from the settlement.

Mostly I loved how, well, realistic Rachel’s life was. What I mean by that is, the events and twists and turns in her life weren’t predictable, and she faced both great joy and great sorrow. I think the ending was perfect, and exactly how I was rooting for it to wind up. hover-over spoiler here.

I was impressed how Brennert was able to span an entire lifetime in Moloka’i, without it ever feeling boring or dragging, and in less than 400 pages! The book has the feeling of an epic but without the heft, and I believe under different circumstances (more free time) I could I have read this much more quickly. Brennert’s attention to details and research was clear from the start, and I think really enhanced the story and the world and time in which Rachel lived.

I’m happy to have learned some history about my brother’s new home for the time being, and especially the folklore and mythology that Rachel learned from Haleola will stay with me. Despite the hurt and suffering (and Rachel endures plenty of that), there is a lot of hopefulness, strength, and perseverance in Moloka’i too. Great read!

Moloka’i is my first of twelve books read for the 2014 TBR Pile Challenge.

Read from February 4 to 12, 2014.

tbr pile challenge 2014

All right, confession: I failed my 2013 TBR Pile Challenge: only got halfway through, reading six of the twelve. I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, it’s not like I just didn’t read in the last year, of course—I read lots! Just got distracted by shiny new books. On the other, I took this failure as a signal that the books I didn’t get to in the challenge (and haven’t gotten to in years) should be released back into the universe. On the third (?) hand, I don’t like that I failed—it really bothers my competitive spirit.

Luckily, Adam at Roof Beam Reader is hosting the fifth annual 2014 TBR Pile Challenge, and I’m eager to give this one another shot!

It’s super easy—in twelve months, read twelve books that have been sitting on your shelves unread for at least one year (so, nothing published on or after January 1, 2013). Adam allows for two alternates in case you find you don’t like/can’t finish one of your chosen twelve. (Note: it doesn’t have to be in any particular order and you can go at your own pace.)

As I finish the books I’ll write a review post here on the blog, and then check them off and add the review post links on my master list page under the Book Challenges tab in the menu here.

Ahab’s Wife … Sena Jeter Naslund (1999)
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay … Michael Chabon (2000)
The Bean Trees … Barbara Kingsolver (1988)
The Blind Assassin … Margaret Atwood (2000)
Blood Meridian … Cormac McCarthy (1985)
Family Matters … Rohinton Mistry (2003)
Helter Skelter … Vincent Bugliosi/Curt Gentry (1974)
The Hot House … Pete Earley (1992)
In the Heart of the Sea … Nathaniel Philbrick (1999)
Kafka on the Shore … Haruki Murakami (2002)
Moloka’i … Alan Brennert (2003)
Someone Knows My Name … Lawrence Hill (2007)

1. The Namesake … Jhumpa Lahiri (2004)
2. Zone One … Colson Whitehead (2011)