ORPHAN ISLAND, by Laurel Snyder, Walden Pond Press, May 30, 2017, Hardcover, $16.99 (ages 8-12)
Orphan Island by Laurel Snyder is one of the most captivating and the most frustrating books I’ve ever read.
Orphan Island opens on the day of the Changing. On the island, everything is pretty much perfect. The nine children who live there are protected by their surroundings — wind that blows them to safety, food that keeps their stomachs full and snug cabins to sleep in at night.
Each day is predictable as the next, even when the Changing happens. Each year, a boat — seemingly powered by magic — appears on the horizon. In that boat, a young child sits, waiting to become the island’s newest inhabitant. After its arrival, the boat makes a return trip to the unknown, taking the eldest child from the island with it.
It’s a pattern all the children — except, perhaps the newest inhabitant — are used to. Today is no different. Except, now that Deen is gone, Jinny is the new Elder. She’s responsible for teaching Ess everything she needs to know about the island. Being the Elder changes everything, and Jinny’s not sure she’ll be ready when the boat returns to take her away forever.
Orphan Island is immediately engrossing. I did not want to put it down, and stayed up late into the night finishing it.
While author Laurel Snyder has written Orphan Island for middle graders, it will strike a chord with YA and adult readers as well. Not only does Snyder accurately depict the change from childhood to teen, she also gives her characters — the children — freedom to grow and explore on their own. She celebrates their resiliency through beautiful prose and a compelling plot.
The end of Orphan Island, though somewhat expected, is slightly jarring. Snyder’s ending is infuriatingly open-ended. Oh, how I wanted the story to continue! I have so many questions left unanswered. But I think that’s the point, and the reason why I keep returning to her narrative. Because of this Orphan Island lives beyond the pages.
Orphan Island is a quiet book — no dystopian or paranormal elements here — and yet there’s a magic to it that’s unparalleled. This thoughtful story of growth and self-discovery is well worth reading.
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