Monday, July 31, 2017

Orphan Island by Laurel Snyder

I hardly know where to begin with this very different, deeply thought provoking book, Orphan Island, which for me seems to be exploring what might happen if we go against our destiny.  Or perhaps it is about the external forces that control our lives.  Or maybe it is about taking steps into the unknown when the time is right. It is also a book about our human strengths and weakness.  Then there is the important lessons about responsibility and the power of kindness.  I will give one warning here.  Please do not be tempted to skip to the end and see 'what happens'.  Be patient and let Laurel Snyder take your hand and lead you carefully to an ending which will probably raise more questions than answers.

Nine children live on an island.  They are each one year apart in age.  The island somehow provides all their needs and over time the children have developed their own rules and so have a fairly good life.  Each year, as adolescence, looms a boat arrives to deliver a new child and take away the eldest. This is called The Changing.  Today Deen will leave and Jinny will take over as the leader.  She is expected to take care of the new child (her Care) who is called Ess and teach Ben his Elder lessons so he will be ready when his turn comes next but already Jinny is begun to question the status quo.  She misses her friend Deen terribly and initially resents the arrival and burden of this new child.

The first part of the book you will be in paradise. The children gather food - eggs from wild hens, honey from hives. They have a library filled with old books. The catch fish and wash in the beautiful waters on the shore line.  Ben is an excellent cook and seems to be able to provide just the right amount of food for each meal using everything the children have foraged.  They have even learnt to dry fruit and eat this as a type of candy.  High on the cliff top the lightest children can float on the updrafts.

"One by one Jinny and Joon set the dark green-skinned fruits out on the dry rocks. If they were lucky, and the birds didn't steal too many of them, the sunshine would shrink and sweeten the firm globes into rich bits of chewy deliciousness.  In about a dozen sleeps, they'd come back and collect them again."

Jinny begins to notice a change in herself.  As adult readers we might recognize the beginning of adolescence.  She seems to need to spend time alone.  For the first time ever she takes up the habit of marking the days.  Finally a year passes and the bell rings again signalling The Changing.  Spoiler alert - Jinny does not step in the boat.  She picks up the new child called Loo and now, with ten children not nine,  the island balance is disturbed.

Small things happen at first but you just know a tragedy or catastrophe is close.

Here is an interview with the author.  I highly recommend Orphan Island for any mature senior primary student.  I am sure it is a story that will linger with me for a long time.

Orphan Island is a metaphor, an allegory, a work of magical realism, a fantasy, a post-apocalyptic work of quiet science fiction. It’s for kids. It’s for adults who think they think like kids. It’s for adults that don’t think they think like kids at all. What’s the true story here? What is this book and who is its audience? Orphan Island is a book that leaves you with more questions than answers.  SLJ Elizabeth Bird

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

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