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Scar Island Hardcover – January 3, 2017
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From School Library Journal
Gr 5–8—Gemeinhart gives readers a poignant, action-packed story with references to classics Robinson Crusoe and Lord of the Flies. Jonathan Grisby is the newest kid to be sent to the remote island fortress Slabhenge Reformatory School for Troubled Boys. Run by the Admiral and a small group of surly men, Slabhenge reforms boys through hard work, squalid living conditions, and the constant threat of bodily punishment via a torture device known as the Sinner's Sorrow. When a freak lightning strike kills all adults on the island just a day after Jonathan arrives, he convinces the other boys to stay, free from adult interference. They call themselves the Scars, unable to be picked off and thrown away like the scabs of society. When tough guy Sebastian declares himself the leader and becomes a punitive dictator, Jonathan and the other boys who oppose Sebastian find themselves in danger. A storm threatens to sink the island, and Jonathan must confront his troubled past and become the leader the Scars need to survive. Gemeinhart creates a compulsively readable story with enough teasers to keep the mystery alive until the very end. The plot is not too dark and is suitable for middle graders as well as for young teens. The bond between Jonathan and Colin, another boy on the island, is the shining star of the novel, showcasing empathy and demonstrating Gemeinhart's emotional range. This is an unflinching salute to friendship and redemption. VERDICT A heartfelt tale, recommended for most middle grade collections.—Jessica Holland, University of Kentucky, Lexington
* "It's grotesque, compelling, over-the-top, yet fully realized . . . Children who respond to it well will read it over and over again." -- Kirkus Reviews, starred review
Praise for The Honest Truth:
A New York Times Editors' Choice selection
An Amazon.com Best Book of the Month
An Indie Next List selection
*"An emotionally hard-hitting survival story... A gripping page-turner." -- Publishers Weekly, starred review
"An impressive combination of suspenseful adventure thriller and cancer narrative... Touching but unsentimental, this is a deeply moving adventure." -- Booklist
"Gemeinhart presents a rousingly riveting two-hanky read." -- Kirkus Reviews
Praise for Some Kind of Courage:
*"This is true adventure with strong underpinnings of moral courage and love... Poignant and real." -- Kirkus Reviews, starred review
*"Exhilarating and enthralling, Courage promises even the most reluctant readers a breakneck adventure that will keep them turning the pages with utter devotion." -- Booklist, starred review
"This is a terrific book, morally thoughtful and wonderfully well told, that 9- to 14-year-olds are likely to cover at a gallop." -- The Wall Street Journal
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Top Customer Reviews
Scar Island is his darkest plot yet. Set on a remote island once used as an insane asylum, young boys who have been sent to Slabhenge Reformatory don't go willingly. They are court-ordered to wile their time doing repetitive hard labor to pay off the sins they have committed in society. Jonathan, the new twelve-year old boy, finds himself the unwelcome target of the head of the "school." The fifteen boys find themselves in the unusual predicament of sudden independence when a freak accident wipes the handful of adults in charge out. What happens when "bad boys" are left to their own devices? What is that incessant banging down in the basement? Will Jonathan ever forgive himself for what he did in order to be sent to Slabhenge? And what about that huge, one hundred year storm heading straight for the sinking island? Middle grade readers will likely read will past their bedtime to find out the answers to these and many more questions.
The pretext is set up much like William Golding's classic tale of island survival, Lord of the Flies. In fact, Gemeinhart makes no bones about the comparison because he actually mentions the book in HIS book. One of the many things that makes Scar Island work is the "librarian" tucked away in the deep confines of the reformatory. He is the only adult on the island Jonathan feels he can trust, and in return, he is rewarded with a classic book (or two, or three). Treasure Island, Robinson Crusoe and yes, even Lord of the Flies make an appearance within Scar Island. You can take the librarian/teacher out of the school (Gemeinhart is no longer working in an elementary school setting full time...he's hit it big!), but you can never take the school out of the librarian/teacher-turned-full time author. These classic books, often ignored and largely going unnoticed by middle graders, will surely receive some much needed resuscitation after kids read references to them in Scar Island.
Besides a nod to classic literature, though, readers will likely pick up on the messages of bullying, the strength of family ties, and forgiving oneself of past wrongdoings. Although I marked this book as a "guy read," Scar Island will appeal to both girls and boys alike (and even middle-aged teachers). Highly recommended!
Now I just have to bide my time waiting for Gemeinhart to hit another home run...I think I'll run to the library and grab a copy of a classic book. After all, as Scar Island's librarian repeatedly says, "...you cannot leave a library without a book."
From the very beginning I loved it. Then I loved every twist, every turn, every introduction of a new character. I loved the writing. I loved the setting. I loved the message. I loved the resolution and the hope in the ending.
SCAR ISLAND is a book that I wanted to immediately go back and read again after I finished it. But my time is limited, and there are many more books I want/need to read. But one day, I shall indulge myself and pick up SCAR ISLAND again. I will slowly savor it the second time since I won't be so anxious to know how things will end.
Thank you, Dan Gemeinhart, for such a beautiful middle-grade novel full of hardscrabble boy characters.
So, for the troublesome setting. The story takes place at a boys reform school on a coastal island in a building that is positively Dickensian. It is a former mental asylum with almost no electricity so rooms are lit by lantern or candle, heated by a coal furnace and rooms are dank and dungeon like. The staff is cruel and greedy. I did not notice in what country the story is set, but have difficulty believing a place like this could exist in any civilized country. I liked what happened to the characters as the story developed and really wish the basic story had been told with a setting and adult characters that weren't so extreme they crossed over into the realm of farce. But as I mentioned above, middle grade readers would not be burdened with adult expectations of what would fly in the criminal justice system so the setting wouldn't be so unbelievable and might instead enhance the story for them.
I don't want to spoil the story so won't say more about the plot other than there are good things for parents or teachers to talk with the readers about why some kids go along with a bully and what happens when someone challenges a bully.