Orphan Island by Laurel Snyder
Summary from Edelweiss:
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 the nine children who live there; when they go to sleep in their cabins, it is with full stomachs and joyful hearts. 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 return.
Today’s Changing is no different. The boat arrives for 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 from the only home she’s known, forever?
ARC provided by the publisher via Edelweiss for an honest review.
This is a beautifully written coming of age story, but it is unlike any other. There are no adults anywhere in this story. There are just children living alone on an island, surviving and getting along with each other quite well. There are quarrels between some of the children, some of their personalities do clash, but for the most part everyone gets along. It is quite peaceful and idyllic. The island always provides and the older children teach the younger ones the rules and how to survive. Surprisingly they also teach each other how to swim, cook, scavenge and even to read. There are books there, which was a nice touch.
The story is told through Jinny, who is struggling with her role as Elder. We don’t know the exact age of any of the children, but from the descriptions it sounds like the children arrive when they are about 4 years old. We don’t even know for sure that the time between boat arrivals is a full year by our standards, but my guess is Jinny is around 11 or 12. She doesn’t really want to be the elder, and she really struggles with helping and teaching Ess, partly because I think she resents her. She thinks about Deen a lot and their relationship. You can tell that Jinny loves the island and is conflicted with the knowledge that she must leave when the boat comes back. She grows a lot both emotionally and physically. The other children on the island all try to help Jinny with her struggles, but none of them really know how.
This is a beautifully written story that I think many tweens will like. I struggled with really wanting to know the why and the who behind the story. Why were they on that island? Why only nine? Who sent them? Where do they come from or go to when they leave? As an adult not knowing these things really bothered me and I really want to know the answers which took away some of the pleasure of reading this book. I think kids will be less concerned with these questions though, and will be able to enjoy it the way it is meant to be enjoyed.