Review: Orphan Island

imagesBook: Orphan Island
Author: Laurel Snyder
Rating: 3 Stars

Basic plot: Jinny is the oldest child, or “Eldest”, of nine orphans on a mysterious island. When the next child arrives in the boat, it will be her turn to leave because the rules say there can only be nine orphans living on the island. But Jinny doesn’t feel ready to leave yet. So what will happen if she stays?

WHAT’S COOL…

1) The mystery of the island is intriguing. It’s what kept me reading. What is this island all about? Where do the children come from? Where do they go? What happened to Deen? Who made all the rules? What happened to Abigail?

2) The island is like a character itself. (And come to think of it, so is the boat.) The nine orphans are living out an idyllic childhood on a beautiful desert island… the stuff of novels. And it’s safe there, as the island takes care of its own. Is there a child out who hasn’t daydreamed this very scenario?

3) The little rhyme… “Nine on an island, orphans all…” is used quite nicely in the book.

4) I liked the dynamic between the children. Very realistic. For the most part there is comradery, but (as in real life) there’s also Eevie. Oh, Eevie. The character that you’re ready to vote off the island!

5) The book cover is beautiful. I feel it captures the mystery of the island quite well with the boat and child in silhouette. And yet the trees and foliage are friendly, whimsical, and protective (like the island in the book).

6) [*SPOILER] I loved figuring out half-way through that the island is a metaphor for childhood. Jinny cannot stay safe in childhood forever, which is why the island starts to fall apart after she refuses to leave in the boat. It’s interesting that this affects not just Jinny, but the other children as well. [*END SPOILER]

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) I had a hard time liking Jinny. She kept saying what a bad teacher she was, and neglecting her duty to instruct Ess, her “Care”. (I preferred Ben or Joon, by the way. But they’re not our main character, are they?)

2) We don’t get to find out what happens once the children leave the island. Like Abigail and Deen. We’re never given any idea of the mothers left behind and why the children are sent to the island in the first place. We’re left with this instead: [*SPOILER] “Out there were answers. She hoped she was ready for them.” This is where the metaphor of the island-as-childhood breaks down. In real life, we have adults who can help guide the child through the transition into adulthood. This isn’t death where we don’t have anybody who can explain things to us! [*END SPOILER] Instead, it would have been nice if Laurel Snyder had put in some Epilogue just to help with some of those answers.

3) There isn’t a whole lot of plot/danger in this book, especially in the first half. Apparently because nothing major can hurt the children. (Even if they throw themselves off the cliff, the wind sends them safely back to land.) This is not a huge strike against the book, but if you’re expecting more things to happen, you’re in for a disappointment.

4) The children have books on the island. Some of them are described as the one with the boy wizard (Harry Potter) or the girl with a monkey and a horse for friends (Pippi Longstocking). Since this island thing isn’t part of the real world (obviously!), I wish she hadn’t used real-world books. Although, I will give her credit that at least she does NOT use the actual titles for the books. Even so, the descriptions were enough to break me out of the spell of this world she had built. I wish she had been a little more creative in this area.

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 3 Stars (out of 5) – I liked this book well-enough. I loved the idea of the metaphor that was played out. Would I recommend it? Probably not so much for its target audience (kids), but maybe more for adults. Which is kinda weird considering the themes of the book. Maybe this would make a good book for a read-aloud, because there is so much to discuss.

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Only Orphans Allowed

20170824ma_4716Have you ever wondered why so many kids’ books feature orphans?

Anne Shirley, Mary Lennox, Oliver Twist, Frodo Baggins, Peter Pan, Cinderella, Dorothy Gale, Huckleberry Finn, Pollyanna, Pippi Longstocking, Paddington Bear, the Baudelaire orphans, Harry Potter… and the list goes on.

Or, if the characters aren’t exactly orphans, the parents are somehow (conveniently) off-screen. Like how the Pevensie children are sent out of London before they find their way into Narnia. Or the Bastable children seeking treasure on Lewisham Road in order to help their father who is busy with his business woes. Or how Artemis Fowl’s mother is ill and depressed, while his father is MIA in Russia.

For the author, the first order of business… Get rid of the parents. I used to think this was an unfair trick of so many books. Why did authors do it? Did they really have to make the world so void of parents?

Then one day, I stumbled upon the answer. I read a book where the author must have wondered the same thing. This author had put a “Helpful Dad” type of character into the story. You know the type. The Ward Cleaver. The Pa Ingalls. The kind of dad every kid should have in their lives.

Here’s a brief outline of the story. Kid moves to New Neighbourhood with Loving and Devoted Parents. You know Parents are loving and devoted because of how they interact with Kid. Then Kid somehow notices something fishy going on in a nearby graveyard. He confides in Dad. Great Father/Son interaction. (That’s how it’s supposed to be in real life. Yay for Dad!) Now, Dad understands the call to adventure. He walks with Kid to graveyard. “I’ll watch from over here just in case you need help,” says Dad, ever the understanding type. Kid feels so secure and happy that Dad is so understanding. Kid walks into graveyard alone, while Dad stands by. Then, WHAM! Somehow Kid is sucked into another world… leaving Dad behind.

Okay, so first of all, even this author also realized that he needed to get rid of Helpful Dad at this point in the story.

I don’t know what you thought when you were reading my little outline, but I can tell you my thought process when I was reading the book. As the dad was walking with the kid to the graveyard, I wanted to scream out, “Stop! This is isn’t right. If Helpful Dad is along on the adventure, how can Kid do anything???” Then as Helpful Dad stepped back and let Kid go into the graveyard alone, I wanted to scream, “Wait a minute, Dad. What kind of father are you?! How can you let your kid go in there alone!”

There was no helping it. I was fed up with the story. And actually, to be honest, I never did finish the book.

But this glimpse gave me my answer for why so many books feature orphans. It’s because we really don’t want irresponsible parents. But we also don’t want parents to get in the way of the protagonist’s journey. That doesn’t mean you can’t have a good grownup in the story. They can be available for advice, but we don’t want a smothering helicopter.

In real life, we want and need loving parents. In fiction, sometimes it’s best to kill those parents off.

Or at least send them on a long trip.