Genre: Historical Age Range: MG Star Rating: 4 stars Series: standalone CW: forced separation of parents and children
There are some places you would not want to go. Even if I told you that we have oceans filled with sea turtles and dolphins, or forests lush with parrots that call through air thick with warmth… Nobody comes here because they want to. The island of no return.
Ami lives with her mother on an island where the sea is as blue as the sky. It’s all she knows and loves, but the arrival of malicious government official Mr Zamora changes her world forever: her island is to be made into a colony for lepers. Taken from her mother and banished across the sea, Ami faces an uncertain future in an orphanage. There she meets a honey-eyed girl named for butterflies, and together they discover a secret that will lead her on an adventure home. Ami must go back to the island of no return, but will she make it in time?
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THE ISLAND AT THE END OF EVERYTHING is a sad but beautiful book about family and courage and stigma.
The book is historical fiction. It never specifies a date, but a brief foray into Wiki tells me that the Culion Colony was set up in 1906 under the American regime. It’s another country and time period I know little about, and the lack of focus on the exact time allows the story to focus instead on the character and her journey.
It also feels very natural for a child not to be wondering about the date. I’m not sure when I started paying attention and giving significance to the year, but certainly not until late secondary. It’s told as Ami recounting her life, so it’s not a child’s voice, per say – there are some childish phrases like “Other Places” for anywhere beyond the island – but the overall tone is more sombre and reflective.
The story is beautifully written, slower paced than you often see for children’s books, but it suits the near-dreamlike feel. This helps reflect the shock and misery, and then new friendships, in Ami’s life. The imagery with the butterflies is so good, particularly how they play into the end of Ami’s story.
The final section is in a new POV, set 30 years later, and the change threw me. It feels tacked on, to give the book a happy ending and tie up the loose ends. I wonder if it’s there because it’s MG and so the bittersweet ending of Ami’s POV wasn’t felt to be appropriate?
However, I liked where Ami’s ended, felt it suited the tone of the story and had just enough hope to hint at a good future. Instead, there are four chapters from a new POV with no goal and no real momentum, as you know it’s all going to end happily and wrap up nicely.
Despite this ending not quite landing right, this is a worthwhile read.
Read my Reviews of other books by Kiran Millwood Hargrave:
With Tom de Freston: