Twelve-year-old Amihan is living with her mother on an island in the Philippines to which lepers are banished. While she herself is “clean,” her young mother (in her thirties) has a rather advanced case. Her father had already died of the disease before her mother knew she was pregnant and was exiled to the island. Ami loves her mom and is happy, but do-gooders come along with the goal of rescuing the uninfected children and hauling them off to an orphanage on another island, leaving all the infected parents and others to basically get sick and die out so the disease might be eradicated. Ami endures a rather Jane-Eyre-ish type experience at the orphanage; there are good people and bad people and one outstanding villain straight out of Dickens, if you don’t mind my mixing authors. She fears her mother is dying and, along with two other children, salvages a boat. They sail off home, where she is indeed reunited with her mother just as she lies dying.
The book is tightly written, holding true to a central metaphor having to do with butterflies. The characters are competently drawn, there is color and adventure, and the basic story is interesting in what it reveals about leprosy and how those afflicted were treated in times past. It’s a curious thing, though, that you don’t really care much about the characters. Not sure what causes that “remove.”
However, the last thirty pages illustrate that little saying, “Where man places a period, God places a comma.” In the remaining few pages of the book, it comes alive–somewhat, I guess, like the chrysalises turn into butterflies. Here readers get the long view of what has gone before and which has been very sad. The long and winding roads of fate lead to a very interesting and satisfying end.
There is nothing offensive in this book. I think the adjective “damned” is used once, but when I went back to tag it I couldn’t find it. There is no sex. There is some cruelty and bullying and a dangerous fire. There are people who have no use for religion and others who demonstrate the true heart of it beautifully. There is forgiveness but also justice. Courage is rewarded. There is one peculiar note having to do with a bit of cross-dressing which seems to come out of nowhere.
This book is a reminder that a book must be read all the way through for a fair judgement. Flipping through a few pages here and there would not yield this little book’s true worth.