Thursday, July 27, 2017
Orphan Island - Laurel Snyder
Author: Laurel Snyder
Publisher: Walden Pond Press (HarperCollins), 2017 (Hardcover)
Length: 269 pages
Genre: Children's Fantasy
Started: July 23, 2017
Finished: July 26, 2017
From the inside cover:
"Nine on an island, orphans all,
Any more, the sky might fall."
On the island, everything is perfect. The sun rises in a sky filled with dancing shapes; the wind, water, and trees shelter and protect those who live there; when the nine children go to sleeping their cabins, it is with full stomachs and joy in their hearts. And only one thing ever changes: on that day, each year, when a boat appears from the mist upon the ocean carrying one young child to join them - and taking the eldest one away, never to be seen again.
Today's Changing is no different. The boat arrives, taking away Jinny's best friend, Seen, replacing him with a new little girl named Ess, and leaving Jinny as the new Elder. Jinny knows her responsibility now: to teach Ess everything she needs to know about the island, to keep things as they've always been. But will she be ready for the inevitable day when the boat will come back - and take her away forever from the only home she's known?
Acclaimed author Laurel Snyder returns with a powerful, original, unforgettable story of growing up - the things we fight to hold on to, and the things we struggle to let go.
This book has received a fair bit of hype both from authors and readers, and I can confirm it is definitely deserved.
The novel opens with a bell ringing in the distance; all the children running to meet the boat and its new occupant. Deen, the current Elder, takes his leave, while Jinny takes his place by caring for Ess and teaching her all she needs to know about living on the island. As the year passes, Jinny tries (while not always succeeding) to be a good Elder, both in teaching Ess and being a good example for Ben, who will replace her. She questions their existence on the island, wondering whether the oldest children actually need to leave to ensure that balance is maintained. These questions become more prominent in her mind when she discovers a letter written by Abigail, one of the first inhabitants of the island.
This book has a clear story but is so wonderfully open-ended, it leaves room for a reader's individual interpretation, this is something perfect for book clubs and classroom discussions. For example, we never find out exactly how or why the children are on the island, we don't even know what time period or alternate universe we're looking at. We know it's at least somewhat modern since the kids reference reading The Giving Tree and Harry Potter. We can assume, based on Abigail's letter, that the first child inhabitants of the island were sent away willingly by their parents, but it's hard to tell if we're dealing with some dystopian environment where the kids are sent away for protection or training purposes. Even the ending is ambiguous, which I like in children's books since it makes readers exercise their imaginations to end the story to their liking.
The themes in this novel are relatively open-ended as well. The main one explored is the transition from childhood to (young) adulthood, evidenced by Jinny's struggles on the island, but you can also identify themes of human development and parenting since the older children on the island disagree with each other on the proper ways to raise the Cares. There's even some nice Biblical imagery and symbolism thrown in, and fellow bibliophiles will even notice nods to The Lord of the Flies and Peter Pan (very superficial ones in regards to the former, since the kids coexist rather peacefully and don't murder each other).
A novel that appears simple at first glance but is actually very layered and quite literary; this is something children will be able to read and enjoy but only the more sophisticated and mature will be able to really appreciate.
Thoughts on the cover:
Lush and colourful, and I like how your eye is drawn to the boat with Ess inside, it echoes how the return of the boat is this thing hanging over everyone's heads each year.