Saturday, April 16, 2016

Just In Time For Summer Reading: The Island of Beyond by Elizabeth Atkinson

I had the opportunity to read a NetGalley digital ARC of this novel in exchange for this review. This book is the perfect way to kick off anyone's season of summertime reading. Thankfully, I was able to take advantage of the first weekend of truly gorgeous, warm springtime weather to sit on my deck and transport myself to a remote island in the middle of a lake in Maine during the month of July.
Martin Hart is an eleven-year-old boy who is just starting his summer vacation. Like many boys his age, he spends an awful lot of time sitting around the house playing video games. His father decides that it would be good for Martin to spend his summer visiting his great-aunt, Lenore, who lives on the Island of Beyond. He wants Martin to enjoy the things that he had enjoyed as a boy such as sports, swimming, and exploring the outdoors. This is the last thing in the world that Martin wants to do, as he leads a very sheltered life, doesn't have many friends, and is frightened of so many different things.

When his father leaves him at Lenore's house, Martin feels completely abandoned. The house is very old, without the modern conveniences such as TV, Wi-Fi, or cellphone service. He barely knows his great-aunt or her caretaker, Tess and he's uncertain how he's going to last the summer in this creepy place.

Everything changes when he meets Solo. Solo pretty much takes care of himself and is described by Tess as a "wild boy" that Martin should avoid. But as the days go along, Solo changes Martin's life. He teaches him how to canoe, climb trees, and make slingshots. Solo is so cool and makes Martin feel more confident and self-assured than he has ever felt in his entire life.

But as time goes by, Martin starts to learn more about his family, Solo, and the island and he's not certain who he can trust. The reader is pulled into this story that is funny in some places and dramatically suspenseful in other places. There's plenty of action to engage readers from the moment Martin finds out that he's going to this island all the way to the very end.

The author, Elizabeth Atkinson, does a terrific job of giving voice to the variety of characters in this story. The voices of Martin, his parents, his relatives on the island, and Solo are very authentic. I love that this is a story with compelling characters that middle-grade boys will be able to relate to (as well as girls). It's very difficult for me to find fiction novels that appeal to the boys in my fifth grade class.

Character development in this story is awesome. As I read this book, I really grew to care about all of these people and was very eager to know that they would be all right. I found myself cheering for Martin as his ability to try new and scary things grows. For all kids who never feel like they fit in or that they're "normal", Martin's growing self-confidence is sure to be encouraging and inspiring.

 I definitely would like to get several copies of this for my classroom library. I'm sure this is going to be a popular book. I totally recommend this book, especially for anyone who is ready to jumpstart summer!

Hardcover, 288 pages

Published April 1st 2016 by Carolrhoda Books

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