Thursday, May 24, 2007

Haunting Moloka'i Impossible to Forget

This mesmerizing novel explores a world I'd never heard about, let alone read about until I picked up this incredible book. It's the story of Rachel Kalama, who is only seven in 1891 when she contracts leprosy, a Western disease that is slowly stealing the citizens of her beloved Honolulu. Although the Kalamas try to hide Rachel's secret, her sister carelessly blurts out the truth during a playground spat. Soon, the dreaded health inspector finds her and carts Rachel off to a hospital for lepers. Although she prays that she will be able to return home, Rachel soon finds herself en route to Kalaupapa, a leprosy settlement on the dreaded island of Moloka'i.

Moloka'i is synonomous with death, but Rachel finds a surprisingly vibrant community there. Despite the residents' horrifying disfigurements, she discovers that they are only people, both cruel and kind, saintly and wicked. Isolated from her home and family, Rachel longs to leave the strange society, to live again with her family, to travel to faraway places. This seems an impossible dream, but Rachel finds that her form of leprosy is slow moving and responsive to new treatments. In the meantime, she has found happiness in her new husband, Kenji, and her many friends. Her bliss is short-lived, however. She soon finds that she is pregnant, an event that would ordinarily bring her great joy. But not on Moloka'i, where babies are whisked away from parents to avoid contamination. Thus, Rachel's daughter is stolen from her arms and placed in an orphanage. When a tragic event further robs Rachel, she becomes even more insistent on fighting her disease and leaving Moloka'i. Finally, when she is stooped with age and marked with leprous sores, she is proclaimed fit. Immediately, she heads for Honolulu to find her family, especially her long-lost daughter. Back in her hometown, Rachel begins to realize how much has changed, and how little. Discrimination is ever-present, even from members of her own family. As determined as ever, Rachel seeks out her past, quaking with fear that her loved ones will never be part of her future.

Summarizing this novel robs it of its incredible depth, so I will stop here and say that you simply have to read this book. It is expansive and beautiful. The novel's sad history will haunt you, but its characters will delight you. This is a book that is impossible to put down or forget.

PIckard's Newest Disappointingly Average

With nearly 20 crime novels under her belt, Nancy Pickard should be a master of the murder/suspense story. At least that's what I assumed when I picked up her newest book, The Virgin of Small Plains. Unfortunately, its compelling plot wasn't enough to rise above its many other flaws. Here's a peek...

When a young woman's body is found in a snowy pasture in close-knit Kansas town, the lives of many are changed overnight. Take Mitch Newquist, for example, who sees the corpse when it is brought into his girlfriend's father's home medical office. Although the sight of a dead woman startles him, he is even more
shocked when he sees the doctor smash her face in with a baseball bat. When he confronts his father - a judge - Mitch is told to leave town and forget about the whole thing. Then, there's Abby Reynolds, Mitch's girlfriend, who wakes up to find that her boyfriend has disappeared, without a note or a phone call. The town soon comes to suspect Mitch had something to do with the murder, but Abby simply can't believe the boy she loved was capable of committing a brutal killing. Rex Shellenberger, the sheriff's son, suspects his no-good brother was involved, but his father warns him not to tell anyone that his brother was even in town. Although the murder remains unsolved, life in Small Plains changes dramatically because of it.
So, Rex, now the sheriff, is understandably reluctant to re-open the case of the unidentified girl. His old friend Abby, however, finally convinces him to get to the bottom of the 17-year-old crime. While he's busy investigating, Mitch returns to town for the first time since his abrupt departure, causing Abby and the other townspeople some serious consternation. Did Mitch really murder the young woman? If not him, then who? Abby's new boyfriend, Patrick Shellenberger? As Abby and Rex dig into the past, old secrets surface, threatening to turn Small Plains on its head once again.
If I had to rate this novel I would probably give it about a C, and that is mostly for its plot, which was exciting enough to make me read the book in one day. However, it loses points for writing that is only so-so, as well as loose and illogical plot twists. I also felt as if the characters were flat and stereotypical. The ending was also fairly predictable, although I have to admit that the first character I suspected was actually innocent. So, the book was good enough to keep me reading, but it lacked the elements that would have made it anything more than average.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Scared to Death: Picoult's Newest Targets School Shootings

Jodi Picoult has long been one of my favorite authors, so I was excited to pick up her newest, Nineteen Minutes. Picoult's subjects are always current, and this one is no exception - the novel concerns a shooting at a high school in fictional Sterling, New Hampshire. The tale is told by a number of Sterling's residents, including Alex Cormier, a superior court judge, who fully intends to sit the case although she is racked with guilt for choosing her career over her daughter; Josie Cormier, whose whole life changes because of the incident; Patrick Ducharme, the detective in charge of the case, who finds himself drawn to the tortured judge; Lacy Houghton, the mystified mother of the shooter; and, of course, the shooter himself. It's a testament to Picoult's ability as a writer that she can make all of these characters human and sympathetic. Even Peter, who coldly and systematically murders his classmates, becomes someone with whom the reader can identify. As each of the narrators tells his/her story, we gain a better understanding of how such an event can impact people's lives forever.

Picoult writes with such skill that the town of Sterling and its residents really do come alive. The reader can't help but be drawn in. The book's plotting is tight and perfectly-timed, each page leading expertly toward a suspenseful and surprising end. Although it's a depressing story in many respects, it's a compelling read. The story itself is fast-paced and exciting, but it's the questions it proposes that are far more memorable and haunting. What leads a kid from a good home to kill? How do we put an end to the bullying so many kids endure day in and day out? How do we protect our schools and our children from violence?

Like all of Picoult's book, this one was well-written and thoroughly researched. My big beef with Nineteen Minutes is with its poor editing. There was a passage (page 39), for instance, where Lucy is first shown sitting on Peter's bed. Two paragraphs later, it reads, "Swallowing, Lacy walked into her son's room," although she was still presumedly in the room. In another spot, the wrong name is used. I know these are little things, but they interrupt the flow of the story, bursting the bubble readers create around them when they read. This is my biggest pet peeves. I've never noticed this flaw in Picoult's novels before, and I hope I never do again.

All in all, this wasn't one of my favorite Picoult novels. It is, however, worth the read, as Picoult is a masterful storyteller. I also think it's important for all of us (especially parents) to contemplate the issues presented in the book. That said, I have to warn you: This book scared me to death.
Blog Widget by LinkWithin