Nicky Singer, with illustrations by Chris Riddell
|This very fine novelisation of a successful National Theatre stage play might not have ever been printed. The author’s regular publisher could not see how they might publish such a book successfully (despite its coverage of environmental and sustainability themes that are of vital interest to children and teenagers), so the author decided to seek crowdfunding and finance publication of the book herself. She has written about this on her website.|
Caboodle Books have produced Island to a high standard – it ‘looks’ the equal of any mass-produced paperback. Chris Riddell has provided illustrations throughout, waiving his fee/royalties in return for a donation to Greenpeace.
Being an adaptation of a pre-existing stageplay, the book has an atmosphere quite different from most YA fiction.
A teenage boy and his mother arrive on a remote Arctic island. The mother, a research scientist, is there to work. Cameron has been dragged along under protest. The teenager is churlish at the start of the book, not wanting to be there, and missing his various gadgetry comforts. As the book progresses the mother’s character flaw (being so immersed in her work that she is sometimes inconsiderate to those around her) comes more to the fore. It is refreshing to read a YA novel in which not one of the main characters is immediately endearing.
It turns out that the visitors are being watched – by an Inuit girl and her grandmother. The main scenes in the novel – told in very short chapters, mainly between 2 and 4 pages in length – concern the meetings and conversations between Cameron and Inuluk, the Inuit girl.
Cameron has been allowed to bring an iPod and the girl watches him “unspool two long, thin white worms from his jacket pocket and attach one to each ear. The worms seem to alter the boy’s body language.”
Singer is very good at enabling the reader to observe Cameron through the eyes of the two Inuit females. The book is told in the omniscient third person voice and as a reader I felt very much as if I were hovering, godlike, above the affairs the book describes, watching them unfold beneath me – rather than moving along at ground level, beside and amongst the characters.
The writing – both the narrative and the dialogue – is fluent and faultless, as it explores the encounters between Cameron and Inuluk, from their two very different worlds. Although the book is never preacherly or issue driven, young readers cannot fail but ask themselves questions about the world they inhabit as a result of reading it.
There is just the right amount of dramatic ‘adventure’ alongside the quieter, ontological exchanges – especially so towards the book’s finish, as Cameron goes jumping from floating block of ice to floating block of ice and has a climactic confrontation with a polar bear, all engineered by Inuluk’s grandmother, who wants Cameron to experience a sense of awe in the face of a natural, potentially lethal splendour.
Not only did the book deserve to be published, it deserves to get the attention of various award shortlists.