My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Around ten years ago, someone in my book club selected Moloka’i as our monthly read. I wasn’t sure I’d like the book as I knew very little about Hawaii or leprosy, but it was a chance to learn. By the end of the novel, I was in tears and had scheduled a trip to visit the islands. It was a major hit at our book club meeting and I fondly recalled the book for several years. Last month, I was searching NetGalley to see what was newly released when this book showed in my queue. WHAT, A SEQUEL? I quickly requested it, waited days to find out if I’d be granted the approval, and messaged my former book club members to tell them about it. When I was awarded the book, I moved it up the queue and read it this week. This novel was truly a wonderful read and lived up to the first book; it’s a high recommendation from me.
The sequel starts in the 1920s at an orphanage where Ruth, a young girl, has been dropped off by her parents, for adoption. While she didn’t have leprosy, Ruth’s parents did which meant they couldn’t raise her for fear of further spreading the disease. Ruth waited years to be adopted because she’s half-Japanese and half-Hawaiin; few potential adopters were interested in taking her with them after a visitation. All Ruth wants is her own pet — a cow, a dog, anything… but the orphanage can’t allow it. One day, a Japanese couple arrive and adopt her. Ruth finds a wonderful home and everything she deserves falls into place — for a few years. Her adoptive father’s brother asks them to move from Hawaii to California to help farm his land. They do, but they find resistance to Japanese by Americans. By the time Pearl Harbor occurred, life for anyone of Japanese descent in mainland America was impacted. Ruth and her entire family, including new husband, Frank, and their two kids, were placed in various relocation camps across the Western US. Pain, death, and regret follow the family for a few years.
As a reader, I came to tears several times, but they also have wonderful moments and relationships that deliver a strong balance in emotional terms. About 2/3 into the book, Ruth receives a letter from her biological mother explaining why she was given up for adoption. Should Ruth meet the woman? Who is she and what is her connection to the characters from the first book in the series? Author Alan Brennert delivers a powerhouse of emotions and history in this sequel which I feel is definitely a parallel match. Not only do we learn about the culture of Hawaii but about Japan in this second installment. To understand what happened to Japanese-Americans in the 30s and 40s was difficult and crushing. It was equally as crushing as the deaths at Pearl Harbor and in WW2 as a result of all the fighting, but the focus here was on those around Ruth and her family.
The book ultimately chronicles Ruth’s life from age 3 to 55 when she’s grown with her own kids who are beginning to think about marriage in the late 1960s after the Korean War efforts. We walk step-by-step with her as she loses family members, gains new ones, finds her connection to animals in a second life, and understands who she really is. The language in this book, whether it’s Hawaiin, Japanese, or American English, is inspiring. It shows the flavor of the world Ruth lived in, both good and bad. At times, I laughed. Others, I teared up. To see a 50-thousand foot version of someone’s life throughout the middle of the 20th century during many horrific wars is quite impacting. We learn of a few different things that happened during the first book that we didn’t know then, but from a different perspective. We re-visit a few of those scenes again just to make connections. It’s quite comforting and eye-opening to learn things that we hadn’t know happened to Ruth’s family before she was born.
I can’t say enough good things about this sequel… perhaps in a few parts it was a tad slow and repetitive, but that’s so minor, it didn’t bother me. I still give this book a full 5 stars.
For those new to me or my reviews… here’s the scoop: I’m Jay, an author who lives in NYC. My stand-alone novels, Watching Glass Shatter and Father Figure, can be purchased on Amazon as electronic copies or physical copies. My new book series, Braxton Campus Mysteries, will fit those who love cozy mysteries and crime investigations. There are two books: Academic Curveball and Broken Heart Attack. I read, write, and blog A LOT on this site where you can also find all my social media profiles to get the details on the who/what/when/where and my pictures. Leave a comment and let me know what you think. Thanks for stopping by. Note: All written content is my original creation and copyrighted to me, but the graphics and images were linked from other sites and belong to them. Many thanks to their original creators. Follow my blog with Bloglovin.