Who am I? Where did I come from? When does childhood end and the next phase begin? These are just some of the perplexing questions our children grapple with from the time they are young– but in all honesty, do these questions ever really go away? Do we ever stop wondering who we are, and when and how the next chapter of our lives will unfold?
These are the issues the protagonist in Laurel Snyder’s startlingly beautiful new novel, Orphan Island, ponders throughout the story. Young Jinny is one of nine children — orphans, to be exact– living on a mysterious, idyllic island. Don’t be fooled, though. While all seems perfect in paradise, there is one day of the year when a strange green boat glides to the shore to drop off a new child… and take the oldest one away. When Jinny’s best friend Deen is taken at this “Changing,” Jinny suddenly becomes the group’s “elder” and must care for the new arrival. Jinny knows her responsibilities as the oldest kid on the island, but will she abide by the “rules” as she counts down to the inevitable arrival of the green boat to take her away, or will she buck tradition and mess up the island’s peace in the process?
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Orphan Island is a meditation on growing up — on what happens when we ask tough questions and realize we may never get answers. It is thoughtful, wise and, perhaps more importantly, unwavering in its honesty. Jinny is a narrator we root for- but one who is also, at times, a bit unlikable. Yet even as we may disapprove of certain actions she takes or choices she makes, we never cease to understand her motivations. Smack dab in the middle of that awkward transition between childhood and adolescence, Jinny is undoubtedly flawed. Her flaws, though, make her story all the more compelling. She is the reason you will fall into Orphan Island and not be able to put it down. Her internal dissonance – fear of losing the island’s stability while simultaneously yearning for something beyond its stagnancy – will strike a chord and resonate with your children who will relate to her innermost thoughts and longings. Orphan Island is contemplative, lyrical, and a brilliant study in character. A must read for your tweens.
Want the book? Get it here! Orphan Island, by Laurel Snyder. *This is an affiliate link. We received a copy of this book from the publisher, but all opinions are our own.