Moloka’i by Alan Brennert
I would have never, ever picked up this book based on the cover. Pretty flowers and pretty girl staring pensively off into the distance? I would assume that it was some bad romance set in the steamy, flower-filled mountains of Hawaii. You know, American GI meets native, lovely, Hawaiian girl, and then so many obstacles stand in their way! No thank you.
As this book was assigned to a book group I joined in order to push myself to meet people in Austin, I had to give it a shot…and I’m glad I did! This historical fiction novel follows leprosy patient Rachel Kalama from her childhood in the last days of the Kingdom of Hawaii to old age in the 1960’s. Leprosy patients in Hawaii (of which there were quite a few, apparently) were shipped off to another island, and pretty much left to run their own lives with help from a few government and religious agencies. Rachel sees it all: families broken by the diagnosis, bodies turning on themselves, the stress brought to those who are there to help, and moments of unexpected joy.
Really, this was a very solid novel, with a fascinating history. I gotta say, if I ever manage to get to Hawaii, I may be putting visiting Moloka’i on the to-do list.
God’s Harvard: A Christian College on a Mission to Save America by Hanna Rosin
Hanna Rosin, of the Slate XX podcast fame, decided to really get behind the scenes at Patrick Henry College, a small university that aims to put evangelical Christians at the forefront of American politics. The kids who go there are often extremely sheltered (so many home schoolers) and naive, but also are idealistic, focused and sure that they will be able to change the USA to fit more neatly into their ideals.
Rosin really took the time to get to know many of the students, which makes them so much more likable and interesting than they would be if they were just outlines. Many of the girls she talks to struggle with reconciling the requirement that they be perfect wives and mothers with the political training they’re receiving. Boys wonder how much difference they can actually make. Kids break the rules. Kids feel incredibly guilty. Teachers strain against intense regulations. The zealous founder tries to rule with an iron fist. Believe me, this small college holds enough drama to fuel a few soap operas.
This is a side of America that I don’t generally have too much personal contact with, by choice. However, having an understanding of this fairly large subset of the country is important, especially now as social issues that were settled years ago are being re-opened at the behest of the religious right (birth control, anyone?). There is power to be grabbed, and these extremely focused kids at Patrick Henry College are going for it.