For my fourth book of the 48 Hour Book Challenge, I selected Neptune's Children by Bonnie Dobkin. This was another case where I couldn't resist the premise. After an man-made, deadly plague kills all of the adults in the world, 2000 children are left to create a new society on an multi-island amusement park called Isles of Wonder. A group of the oldest surviving kids, those nearing but not quite at puberty, take charge, and organize activities to render the islands safe and habitable. The main character, Josh, is one of those early organizers, but finds himself torn between the perks of leadership and loyalty to his other friends. The kids on the islands face internal and external dangers, as they move from living without adults to becoming adults themselves.
I found this an intriguing read, with a fast-paced plot and a fascinating setting. The characterization left a bit to be desired, however. Early in the book, there's a single scene during which most of the main characters are introduced. I found that I couldn't keep most of them straight - they were introduced too quickly, and many of them were one-dimensional. This kept even the sad parts of the book from touching me as deeply as they might have, since I didn't feel like I knew the characters very well.
That said, I did enjoy Zoe, a spunky, slightly cranky teen, who becomes the female head of the family that Josh and his younger sister assemble. I also liked the way that the family, taking in various other orphaned kids, gelled throughout the book, and the way Josh and Zoe gradually transitioned from being siblings to considering themselves parents to the younger children. These "what would happen to society and how will people interact?" questions interest me more than "will they be able to keep the rides going?" This is what kept the book interesting for me.
I recommend Neptune's Children to fans of post-apocalyptic and dystopian fiction, and also to kids who are fascinated by the inner workings of theme parks. The details around the latter are fascinating, I think that middle school readers will find the setting irresistibly cool. Some of the content (such as all of the parents dying in the first chapter) might be a bit dark for elementary school kids, but I think that this will be an enticing read for middle schoolers.
© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.