Pia is a teenage boy growing up in Hawaii. While he does not know who his father is, he enjoys his friendship with Kamaka a family friend who is older and takes Pia under his wing. When Pia discovers he has leprosy he is especially hurt by Kamaka's behavior toward him. Kamaka who always has seemed so fearless is terribly frightened by the disease. As happened to all leprosy victims, Pia is sent to live on the island of Moloka'i with all the other lepers. There he may receive mail or gifts from his family, but he will never be able to see them again because of the fear of contagion. Moloka'i is not the place the government established it to be. The original intent was that the inhabitants would work together as the Hawaiian culture had been established, yet because the inhabitants lacked enough food and proper shelter, a different kind of culture emerged. Pia, who is a fictional character, had to steal for food and many of the residents lived in small caves instead of in the town.
Pia is angry about having leprosy, angry about being sent away from his family, and angry at Kamaka for deserting him. He is taken in by a man, Boki, who provides Pia with the things he needs to survive, but who treats him poorly in other ways. When Kamaka moves to the island because his wife has been stricken Pia is forced to face his anger. And, when Father Damien moves to the island of Moloka'i to help care for its residents Pia gets a lesson in forgiveness.
This was such a wonderful book. While there is an adult novel, Moloka'i (still on my TBR pile) that focuses on the island designated as a leper colony, I have not seen anything out for young adults before. Hostetter includes notes in the back of this book giving more historical information about leprosy and how it affected Hawaii historically and today. The outcome for people with leprosy was eventual death during Pia's lifetime. Hostetter was able to create an ending for Healing Water that was perfect - still imagining Pia living on a beautiful island learning about forgiveness and living at peace with others.