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Orphan Island Hardcover – May 30, 2017
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★ “Through the precocious Jinny, Snyder delivers a contemplative commentary on the transition from childhood to adolescence, and from ignorance to awareness.” (Publishers Weekly (starred review))
“Laurel Snyder has written a story that curls around the heart and pulls in tight—a meditation on the power and wisdom and closeness and sorrow of childhood. A wondrous book, wise and wild and deeply true. I loved every second of it.” (Kelly Barnhill, Newbery Medal-winning author of The Girl Who Drank the Moon)
“An elegant and thoughtful meditation on the joys and sorrows of growing up, with lyrical prose, characters that feel as alive as your dearest friends, and a vivid setting sure to enchant young readers. A work of extraordinary heart.” (Claire Legrand, author of Some Kind of Happiness)
“A visionary, poignant, astonishingly lovely fable of childhood and change. This is a book to lose yourself in, and to never forget.” (Anne Ursu, author of The Real Boy)
“Orphan Island is a masterpiece—both timeless and immediate. Snyder’s book, like the island within it, contains all of the joys, wonders, and terrors of childhood. Every young reader needs this book; every grown reader needs it even more.” (Jonathan Auxier, New York Times bestselling author of The Night Gardener)
This charming, engrossing tale set in a vividly realized world is expertly paced and will appeal to fans of wilderness adventure stories and character-driven relationship novels alike. (Kirkus Reviews)
About the Author
Laurel Snyder is a poet, essayist, and author of picture books and novels for children, including Orphan Island, The Longest Night, Bigger than a Bread Box, and Seven Stories Up. She is also the editor of the nonfiction anthology Half/Life: Jew-ish Tales from Interfaith Homes, a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, and a commentator for NPR’s All Things Considered. She lives in Atlanta with her family and can be found online at www.laurelsnyder.com.
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This book is geared towards the age range of 8-12 but definitely has appeal for adults as well. I have always liked stories where there is minimal or zero adult interactions and the kids are in charge of taking care of themselves. This book is unique because the island has so many secrets and mysteries.
I am really curious to find out how kids respond to the ending. As an adult I can see where the author was going with it even if it did feel slightly unsatisfying. Now if I had been a child reading the ending, I might have been bummed out and would have so many unanswered questions. I highly recommend that any reader check out the author's blog post for her reasoning for the book's conclusion.
I received a free copy of the book from the publisher and that is my honest review.
1.) At its outermost superficial story level, the plot interested me from the start. The strange and solemn custom of saying goodbye -- possibly forever -- to the eldest of the islanders provided a gripping, emotional scene.
2.) Just underneath the story arc, the character arc was convincing. Seeing nine children, each at a different point in his or her growth arc, provided a good sense of how quickly children grow, how quickly they change and adapt when put in extenuating circumstances. The fact that they also had varying personalities made them leap from the page, spiced up their interactions immensely. I also liked hearing about characters from the past, how previous islanders like Abby would try to send messages to the future. It was both primitive and resourceful at the same time, which made the mysteries that much more intriguing and page-turning.
3.) A layer deeper, the concept of mentoring the young -- almost parenthood-like -- shone through the story in how Jinny must manage Ess and then Loo. It spoke to the difficulties of parenthood, how much is unforeseen, how exhausting and rewarding it can be all at once. The way Ess reacted to Loo, bonded with Sam, and other interactions seemed realistic for siblings that must cope with a parent's divided attention. It would have been nice to see how Deen interacted with Sam, but Jinny's journey definitely echoed some of the difficulties new parents often express.
4.) The cycle of life -- how the old must leave and make way for the new, how the young must learn to leave the nest and find new friends when they outgrow their parents. The endless march of time. A lot of themes grew naturally from the premise of following rules, becoming self-sufficient and independent, learning on the fly, needing to bond with others of different ages and social ranks. I liked how Laurel Snyder was able to accomplish these relationships without resorting to bloodshed or fisticuffs (a.l.a Lord of the Flies).
5.) The event-based structure of the chapters kept the pages turning. Every day seemed to present some new, imaginative challenge, each believable and self-contained, such as hunting for honey, reading books, venturing onto the cliffs, or catching an inkfish. Kudos to the author for coming up with believable characters and creatures, from the inkfish providing ink for writing and making references to famous books such as Harry Potter and James and the Giant Peach without directly mentioning them by name. Very well done!
6.) Signs -- I liked how every sign could be interpreted or not interpreted, inviting the reader (along with Jinny) to make too much of some of the book's later events. For example, when the kids experience snow for the first time, we as readers almost want to see it as "the sky falling" like the nursery rhyme, but Jinny and Nat do a good job of noting that it's only a sign if you read it that way. In that sense, anything after Jinny's refusal to leave the island could be both a sign or a normal occurence, and that duality - the possibility of multiple readings - lent both insight and intrigue to the story's second half. In that sense, the book seemed both realistic -- something that nature could conceivably throw at the orphans -- and fantastic, in that unseen forces are trying to push for Jinny's departure.
The main negatives that disrupted the reading were a strange baby-like language that Ess used, Loo's inhumane behavior tearing apart a sea star, and Jinny's incessant internal dialogue obsessing over Deen. It would have been nice if Ess didn't talk like such a baby (she's not that far removed from the elders, who speak normally), or if the author didn't constantly refer to Loo like a wild animal. Sometimes, it felt as if the story were being told from the viewpoint of a middle-aged mother, at least in how much surprise was interjected into describing Loo's child-like energy. Also, I wanted to look up to Jinny for her challenges raising Ess and fighting her own desire to stay, but her constant daydreaming of days past with Deen clouded the narrative and gave the story an unnecessarily wistful romantic feel.
The boat would come view, the horn would blow and the children would line up on the beach just waiting for the boat to come ashore. It happened every year, or so they thought. They didn’t know it if was exactly a year, they didn’t count the days but they figured it was a year. A male or female child would be the sole occupant on the boat and they would gently lift them out and the child would join the others on the island while the Elder from the island would take the spot in the boat. After saying good-bye to everyone on shore, then they would quickly be pulled out to sea, never to be seen again. Why? Because this was the rules and they obeyed the rules. The Elder of the children who was now left on the island would be charge of the new child who had just arrived. They would teach this new child the way of the island. Why? Because this was the rules and they obeyed the rules. The island is made up of rules, rules that the children follow and have been following for years. So, what would happen if one of them decides not to follow one of the rules? Could not following one rule really do any harm? No one had really explained the rules to these children, they have just been following them because that was the way they had been taught so they knew of no consequences. So, what could happen if Jinny says no and doesn’t follow one of the rules?
What a great novel. I loved the island characters and their relationships with each other. I liked how they relied on one another and accepted one another. Trust, values and honesty played a big role in this novel. I felt there was a lot of unanswered questions in this novel, which I didn’t feel take away from the novel but could be used as conversation tools for children as they read this.