Background: It is well-known to regular readers of this blog that I am unable to resist post-apocalyptic and dystopian fiction. This is perhaps also known to Razorbill, because they sent me an advance copy of The Other Side of the Island. I read it in one sitting, on a recent flight.
Review: The Other Side of the Island, by Allegra Goodman, is a post-apocalyptic novel set in a future world in which much of the Earth has been flooded. Earth Mother and her Corporation apparently swept in during the environmental crisis, and are now running things. A young girl named Honor has been living in the less developed lands to the North, but recently moved to the more restrictive Colonies with her parents. Life is peaceful and secure, and expectations for conformance are quite clear. Honor's parents, however, are not very good at conforming. As she grows older, Honor finds herself living in fear that her parents' actions will be noticed. And people who cause trouble on the Island have a nasty way of disappearing...
This book pulled me in from the first two paragraph:
"All this happened many years ago, before the streets were air-conditioned. Children played outside then, and in many places the sky was naturally blue. A girl moved to a town house in the Colonies on Island 365 in the Tranquil Sea.
The girl was ten years old, small for her age but strong. Her eyes were gray. Her hair was curly to begin with, and it curled even more in the humid island air. She had been born after the Flood in the eighth glorious year of Enclosure, and like everyone born that year, her name began with the letter H. Her name was rare, and in later cycles it was discontinued, but at that time it was still on the lists. She was called Honor."
This book has it all. Goodman's writing is eloquent. The island setting is fully realized. The social issues are thought-provoking and memorable. The plot is suspenseful, and has surprising twists. The characters are complex and flawed. Honor is far from perfect. When her parents have a second child, in a society where second children are unusual, she is horrified. When her parents seem to be putting the family at risk, she reacts by conforming, and is disloyal to less conventional a friend. But even when she's behaving in way that the reader might not like, it's clear that she's doing so with the best of intentions. You can't help but care about her. And of course, eventually, she comes into her own.
This book has elements of The Giver, and of that world in A Wrinkle in Time where everyone is alike. It also reminded me of A Little Princess (when Honor is pushed to the brink during a time of adversity - she reacts much like Sara Crewe did in a similar situation). The Other Side of the Island explores tradeoffs between safety and freedom, and illustrates how people can be controlled through the information that they are given in books, especially if you take away their non-conforming memories. All of the classic children's books have been purged and rewritten, a shadow of their original selves. A boy who discovers some of the original texts feels, rightly, like he's found treasure.
I'm really hoping that Goodman will write other books set in this same world. I can't recommend this book highly enough. It's geared at young adults, but I think that strong younger readers could also manage it, perhaps 10 and up. For fans of dystopian and post-apocalyptic fiction, of all ages, this is a must-read title that you won't want to miss. Even if you aren't normally a fan of such books, I think that The Other Side of the Island is worth a look. The characterization is exceptionally strong, and I think that the setting and the action are compelling enough to draw in all sorts of readers. I'm actually quite tempted to read it again right now, just a few weeks after my first read. That should tell you how strongly I feel about this book.
© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.