Orphan Island by Laurel Snyder ★★☆☆☆ #BookReview

orphanPrimary Genre(s): Middle Grade, Magical Realism, Allegory
Published: 30 May 2017 by Walden Pond Press
Page count: 269
Memorable Factor: Low
Cover: Appropriate
Pacing: Okay
Ending: Unsatisfying
Would I recommend it: Unlikely
Commission Link: https://amzn.to/2Xv1ZyH

My rating: ★★☆☆☆

Synopsis from Goodreads
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 sleep in 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, Deen, 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?

My Thoughts
This book is clearly an allegory for birth, childhood, entering adolescence and ultimately become an adult. I understand all of that, but this book left me scratching my head a bit. I definitely have more questions than answers after reading this book! Here are my pros and cons – presented in reverse order today because I think my cons will help make the pros more understandable.

Cons

  1. The allegory is clear in the book; however, I think it is only going to be clear to adults or astute teen readers. So who exactly is the intended audience for this book? Adults will understand the allegory, but the story itself is super slow and not much really happens. Teens may understand what the book is trying to say, but I’m not sure the story would hold their interest either. Middle grade readers probably aren’t going to recognize the allegory at all, but might be fascinated by the thought of kids “stranded on a desert island” and not having any adults around. In general, however, the story itself doesn’t seem to me like it would appeal strongly to any demographic.
  2. ARGH!!! We never find out why the children are sent to the island in the story. The title implies they are orphans, but there is dialogue in the book that indicates this may not be the case. Still, whether they are orphans or not, why are they sent to the island? Why only one child each year? Presumably we are supposed to understand that the birth allegory means we all just appear one day in this world just like the children appear suddenly on the island… so I guess we are just supposed to accept that? Their presence on the island is definitely mysterious, and I’m super frustrated about not having some kind of explanation of why they are there. Even as an allegory, the story itself still has to make some sense to be a satisfying and enjoyable read.
  3. I recognized the allegory and I felt like this was potentially a creative exploration of the transition from childhood to adolescence; however, the story itself wasn’t stimulating enough to keep me interested. Something about this novel just didn’t quite reach its potential in my opinion. The story, the ending, the audience, the message… everything seemed slightly skewed. It was almost as if I was reading it through some kind of filter – I could make out what was there, but it never quite looked right.

Pros

  1. I did like how the book explored the consequences of not following the rules. I think it might be a little much to imply that questioning or disregarding rules as children will always bring about catastrophic consequences, but the book did demonstrate that ignoring the rules in this case led to fundamental changes in the community the children created by causing tension and issues that weren’t there before. When the natural order of things were disrupted, everyone was affected.
  2. I think this book will at least make you think about how changes in circumstances impacts people differently. Some people are eager to explore and leap head first into the unknown, while others prefer to test the water slowly… and still others reject the unknown entirely. Is there a right or wrong way to react to change? Can change be rejected entirely? In this book the change/unknown is the transition from childhood to adolescence. We can’t stay children forever, no matter how much we may want to. We can resist, kicking and screaming all the way… but the longer we resist or reject becoming responsible adults, the more others around us are impacted. Immaturity or rejection of responsibilities can put a great burden on those around us. Growing up means making tough decisions, leaping into the unknown, and taking chances… to a child that is a very scary prospect indeed. If nothing else, this book could probably invoke some creative and interesting discussions about the responsibility of growing up.

This book was long-listed for the National Book Award and has a 3.65 rating on Goodreads (at the time of this post). So there are obviously people out there that enjoyed this book. For me, based on the story/plot, it was just okay. Perhaps I am giving it short shrift, because I think this book could invoke a reader to really think about the effects of entering adolescence on a child. However, even allegories need to have solid stories. Without a strong and interesting story, this book fall flat for me.


If you would like to read this book for yourself, please consider purchasing through this link: https://amzn.to/2Xv1ZyH. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

7 thoughts on “Orphan Island by Laurel Snyder ★★☆☆☆ #BookReview

  1. I know you didn’t like it – and I also dislike when I’m left with more questions than answers, but your review does have me curious. It almost reminds me of Peter Pan and NeverNever Land.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I was not a fan either. As you say, the allegory was very heavy handed and probably not that clear to a middle grade reader.

    Liked by 1 person

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