Welcome to Day 13 of the 6th Annual March MG Madness, featuring Laurel Snyder and her book, Orphan Island!
by Laurel Snyder
May 30, 2017
Walden Pond Press
Source: ARC from pub for review
From acclaimed author Laurel Snyder comes a deep, compelling, heartbreaking, and completely one-of-a-kind novel about nine children who live on a mysterious island.
On the island, everything is perfect. The sun rises in a sky filled with dancing shapes; the wind, water, and trees shelter and protect those who live there; when the nine children go to sleep in their cabins, it is with full stomachs and joy in their hearts. And only one thing ever changes: on that day, each year, when a boat appears from the mist upon the ocean carrying one young child to join them—and taking the eldest one away, never to be seen again.
Today’s Changing is no different. The boat arrives, taking away Jinny’s best friend, Deen, replacing him with a new little girl named Ess, and leaving Jinny as the new Elder. Jinny knows her responsibility now—to teach Ess everything she needs to know about the island, to keep things as they’ve always been. But will she be ready for the inevitable day when the boat will come back—and take her away forever from the only home she’s known?
On an island, in the middle of the ocean, nine orphans live together. The island’s beginnings are a mystery, but the island protects the children, providing all they need. Each year, a small boat arrives to take the oldest child (the Elder) away and to bring the newest, youngest child ashore. The next oldest child then becomes the new Elder and is in charge of the new arrival, their Care. This is how it’s always been and how it always will be. But the day the boat take Jinny’s best friend, Deen, away and leaves her with little Ess as her Care, things begin to change for Jinny. She beings to question the island’s purpose, her purpose, and fears the day the boat will return for her.
Oh my, y’all! Laurel Snyder’s Orphan Island is one of those books that, once you finish it, you just have to kinda sit quietly for awhile and think about it. And that’s what I did when I read the last page, just sat, with tears in my eyes, and thought about the story, felt the story. Orphan Island makes a profound impression and leaves a bone deep impact, that’s for sure!
There are no witches or fairies in Orphan Island, nor any epic adventures, spy mysteries, high-tech sci-fi or volatile dystopian elements, yet it is utterly captivating and impossible to walk away from. This gorgeously and fearlessly written story has an unassuming, quiet power and beauty. When I first began reading Orphan Island, I was immediately drawn in by the whole mysterious vibe surrounding the island- who created this world for the kids? why were the kids sent there, then taken away? what’s its true purpose?- but as the story unfolded and I became enraptured by the characters, I found myself less and less concerned with those questions and saw that the How, Why, Who didn’t really matter, those nine children mattered, their stories mattered.
Laurel Snyder has crafted an honest, lovely, and at times, startling and devastating, exploration of what it means to grow up. Snyder gives Jinny and the other orphans such a poignant, fierce, yet vulnerable voice, that captures childhood and that sometimes terribly long cusp between child and not-a-child-anymore-but-not-a-grown-up-either. One of the things I love most about Orphan Island, is that depending on a reader’s age and maturity level, readers will walk away from this book with such different experiences, reactions, and impacts. Younger readers will find magic and excitement within the pages and see themselves in at least one of the engaging characters, while older readers will feel the deeper, powerful story being told.
Tender, compelling, thought-provoking Orphan Island left me with a beautiful ache in my heart...an ache that, even days after finishing the book, would pop up and leave me in deep thought. This story has really stayed with me and I hope it always does!
Q1. What three words best describe your book, Orphan Island?
Feral. Growing. Lush.
Q2. Grab a copy of Orphan Island and answer the following:
I've never thought about that before! Hmmm. Maybe Chapter 13: Treading Water. Where Jinny really goes off by herself for the first time in the book.
Favorite page? The last one. I worked really hard on the ending. It kept changing on me!
Favorite setting? The cliffs! The cliffs on the island have a kind of magic to them. They fulfill my lifelong desire for flight.
Flip to a random page and give us a 1-2 sentences teaser:
How about something from Chapter 13, Jinny's swim?
"Jinny saw nothing. But then she felt. What was it? A brush, a touch. Jinny felt a slick tight skin glide past her, rub against one of her bare thighs. She screamed. It brushed her again. Whatever it was. It moved fast. It felt solid. It was a flank, a wall, a small bit of something vast."
Q3. Who are your favorite middle-grade hero and heroine?
I really really love Dicey Tillerman, from Cynthia Voigt's classic series. And for hero-- I don't know. Can we call The Little Prince a hero? He's been in my head a lot lately.
What is your favorite middle-grade book?
That's the hardest question of all time, of course. But I'll say The 13 Clocks. I love what Thurber does with language. Though honestly, I feel like I need to reread it. I'm finding that a lot of my feelings about classic books are evolving right now. I'm seeing them with new eyes.
Q4. Why do you think middle-grade lit is so important?
Middle-grade is when the grownups finally look away, and kids have a chance to find out who they are on their own. The door is open and the world is calling. It's a special blend of independence and exploration. Before the teen years turn us inward. I like the spirit of freedom in middle-grade, the open ended questions.
Q5. If you were to create and bake a cupcake inspired by Orphan Island, what would it look and taste like, and what would you call it?
It would be a funny looking cupcake, baked a little unevenly in a wood stove. Glazed with honey from wild bees. Decorated with bits of plomm and ripe swinks (fruits from the island). It would simply be called a sweetcake, but you'd eat it by a blazing bonfire, with stars above you, and a wild kitten lurking nearby.
Laurel Snyder is the author of five children's novels, "Seven Stories Up," "Bigger than a Bread Box," "Penny Dreadful," "Up and Down the Scratchy Mountains OR The Search for a Suitable Princess" and "Any Which Wall" (Random House) as well as six picture books, "Nosh, Schlep, Schluff," "Baxter, the Pig Who Wanted to Be Kosher," "The Longest Night," "Camp Wonderful Wild," "Good night, laila tov," and "Inside the Slidy Diner" (Tricycle).
A graduate of the Iowa Writers' Workshop and a former Michener Fellow, she also writes books for grownups, and is the author of a book of poems, "The Myth of the Simple Machines" (No Tell Books) and a chapbook, "Daphne & Jim: a choose-your-own-adventure biography in verse (Burnside Review Press) and the editor of an anthology, "Half/Life: Jew-ish Tales from Interfaith Homes" (Soft Skull Press).
Though Baltimore will always be her home, she now lives happily in Atlanta, where she scribbles madly and complains about the heat. Website * Facebook * Twitter
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