Island by Nicky Singer is an absolute wow of a book.
Firstly I should advise you to buy the book.
Secondly I should advise you that when you have the book, you turn to the end and read the essay by Nicky Singer called : Island The Director’s Cut.
In it, Singer explains how she went about the process of creating Island, first as a play for the National Theatre in London, and then how she turned it into a novel.
What is most intriguing is that her novelisation got turned down by her publisher, despite the fact that she is already a well established and highly acclaimed author for children. Singer believed in the book so much, that she went down the self publishing route, and came up with this beautiful thing, illustrated by the fantastic, Chris Riddell.
I am so glad she did.
It is wonderful. It is one of those books that I know will stay with me, long after I have finished it. It is lyrical and clever and a really powerful read, and yet it is also one of those deceptively simple books, the kind you think won’t really affect you until; ‘Pow!’ it suddenly packs an emotional punch you cannot avoid.
Island tells the story of teenage boy Cameron, living with his mother in the aftermath of her divorce from his father. Cameron is damaged by the divorce, angry with both his parents and with nowhere to put the anger he channels his emotions into a seemingly impermeable teenage air of ‘don’t careishness’ that drives his mother mad.
His mother is a research scientist, looking at the melt rate of the polar ice, with particular relevance to a tiny island called Herschel, which she visits every summer to do more research on.
The story starts as Cameron is forced to go with her. He is reluctant and she is angry. He doesn’t want to be there, doesn’t particularly want to be with her, and fears he will be utterly bored without electronic devices to shut himself and his mind away from what is happening to his family.
These are the bones of the story. What makes it special is the introduction of Atka and Inuluk, native Inuits who inhabit the island and who are concerned about the future of the island and the future of the world. Inuluk, a teenage girl, connects with Cameron and begins to show him that there is a wider world than just his own, and both of them are at reach of being damaged beyond repair unless people open their minds and hearts to what is going on.
This really simplifies what is a beautifully mythic story with parallels in the modern and ancient world. It talks about the environment as well as the environment of our hearts. It raises real awareness of the damage humans are doing to the world and each other, and Singer has meticulously researched the island of Herschel, which is real, to lend gravitas to her story. Having said that, she uses the knowledge lightly and deftly in a way that makes you connect with the world she creates rather than getting bogged down in an overtelling of facts crammed into a flimsy narrative. That is far from the case here.
This is a marvellous book that engaged me utterly from page one. It deserves a hugely wide readership and to be a world wide success. I think the publisher who turned it down is an absolute fool. It is a gem.
I recommend it for children aged 8 and up.