Orphan Island

288p. ebook available. HarperCollins/Walden Pond. May 2017. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780062443410.
Gr 3–6—The sound of the bell that signals the boat's arrival fills Jinny with dread. The boat comes yearly, bringing the new youngest child to the island and taking away the oldest, thus preserving the island's status quo. "Nine on an island, orphans all, any more the sky might fall." This particular bell means the departure of Jinny's best friend, Deen, making Jinny the unwilling new Elder and the newest arrival her responsibility. The island has everything the children need: plentiful fish, nuts, berries, and beehives for honey. There are cabins for sleeping, a supply of clothing, and worn books to read. Even the animals are friendly. Everything is idyllic as long as the rules are followed. When Jinny blatantly breaches a cardinal rule, the island's natural order is upset and everything begins to change. The children's once benevolent home ceases to provide for them and protect them. Jinny knows she is to blame and does the only thing she can think of to fix their broken world. The premise is intriguing, the writing is strong, and the tight pacing will keep readers fully engaged. For those looking for satisfying answers, however, no explanation is ever given for the adultless island, where the boats come from, or what force holds the island together. Why were the children sent to the island in the first place? Where do they go when they leave? For the philosophically inclined, the unanswered questions offer much to ponder and discuss. For more literal-minded young readers, the story is apt to feel unfinished. Here's hoping a sequel is in the works.
VERDICT A good purchase for readers who are interested in dystopian landscapes but aren't ready for the heavier and more violent themes often found in the genre.

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