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Orphan Island: 12/15/17

Orphan Island by Laurel Snyder

Laurel Snyder explains in the afterword of Orphan Island that she spent her time taking long baths dreaming about orphans on island. With that in mind, one shouldn't expect a logical, behind the curtain reveal of who is behind the boats that bring and take children to an island.

The book opens with Jinny becoming the newest elder, as her friend and mentor, Deen is taken away on the boat. Replacing him is a young girl — maybe three or four years old — who calls herself Ess.

Ess as the newest arrival is the living link to whatever the children leave behind when they come to the island. She remembers her mother. She is not — or was not until recently — an orphan. Ess resists assimilation into the island culture and every reason, albeit in little kid English, she gives, further compels Jinny to question how the island works.

The wherefore of the island is up to reader interpretation. There are clues of course: the dancing shapes, the limit on there being nine and only nine children at a time, the fact that the weather never changes and the island seems able to provide the food and shelter everyone needs. But there is also a crumbling library with books that only last so long. The island doesn't seem to provide new reading material or another clues about life outside the island.

To test the rules of the island, Jinny decides to stay even when a new child arrives after Ess. The sky doesn't fall exactly but things do change. The weather gets wacky. The island seems to struggle. Jinny hits puberty and doesn't know why she's bleeding.

While the title of the book is Orphan Island the promise of orphan magic is more ephemeral here. Clearly the island isn't natural. It could be artificial. It could be magic. From the limited knowledge we're giving — namely roughly nine years of rotation experience as children age and age out, and the new notes from the first children, there is no way of knowing the origin of the island. In this case, advanced technology might as well be magic.

Reading Orphan Island left me unsatisfied because we never get to see what Jinny sees once she finally decides to leave the island. Imagine if you will that Dorothy Gale had gone to Oz, done the Wizard's errands and been sent home without ever looking behind the curtain. Oz would have been a very different place, and probably a dead-end one.

Five stars

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