________________ CM . . . . Volume XV Number 4 . . . . October 10, 2008


An Island of My Own.

Andrea Spalding.
Toronto, ON: Sandcastle/Dundurn Press, 1998/2008.
102 pp., pbk., $11.99.
ISBN 978-1-55002-635-1.

Grades 6-9 / Ages 11-14.

Review by  Deborah Mervold.

**** /4


Why did my parents do this to me? Stick me with this family for six months. I’m scared I’ll never fit in.

I didn’t realize how big Canada was. The west coast is thousands of miles away from the apartment we had in Toronto and my cousins live in the middle of nowhere. The nearest so-called “town” is half an hour’s drive. It’s one street and doesn’t even have a movie theatre.

It is beautiful here though. The beaches go on for ever and you can always hear the ocean.

The best thing so far was the visit to the island. It was really weird to find out the cabin I’d imagined is real. Now I can’t get it out of my mind. It felt inviting, like real at home.

I desperately miss Mom and Dad. I’m scared for them. Rwanda is half a world away and the news about what is happening there is awful. I wish there was a way to phone them. Letters take too long.

Fifteen-year-old Rowan goes to stay with her cousins near Tofino, BC, while her parents go to Rwanda as foreign correspondents on assignment. She feels out of place with her 19-year-old cousin, Bevan, his sister Darcy, and the younger twins, Martin and Patrick. Their exuberance puts Rowan off, and she doesn’t know how to respond. Darcy is very helpful and includes Rowan with her friends. No one seems to take the danger that Rowan’s parents are in very seriously.

     Rowan finds what she believes are sea otters, but Darcy corrects her, explaining they are river otters. The twins show Rowan a tiny cabin that their parents, Anne and Grant, built on Mr. Symchuk’s island. Rowan’s aunt Anne was a painter who came to the island when she was 18. She then married Grant, and they had the four children and stayed in the area. Rowan is immediately enthralled with the small cabin. She is reminded of a cabin about which she has been dreaming.

     Rowan convinces her aunt and uncle to let her do a special project researching the otters. She would live on the island while she determines whether or not the otters are sea otters. Mr. Symchuk agrees as long as Rowan doesn’t damage the island as he is about to put it up for sale because he needs the money to send an autistic grandchild to a special school. Rowan’s cousins get into the spirit of the adventure and help Rowan prepare supplies for her two week time on the island. As Rowan sets up house on the island, Hoy, a friend of Bevan’s from Hong Kong, has told his father about the island that is for sale, and Katrina Vasey, a wildlife biologist, has heard about the possibility of sea otters being so far south and has hired a boat so she can investigate. While enjoying life on the island, Rowan sees a powerful speedboat which inadvertently kills a baby otter with its propeller. The twins, Martin and Patrick, hoping to be helpful and save the otters, contact a television station which sends a reporter and photographer. The adolescents feel badly once they realize why Mr. Symchuk has to sell, but no one wants the island sold to a developer for commercial purposes even though they would provide the necessary cash for Mr. Symchuk.

     As everyone converges on the island, Katrina verifies that the animals are sea otters, and it has been hundreds of years since they have been seen this far south. She tells the history of the otters and why the kelp beds are the perfect environment for them. Mr. Chan, Hoy’s father, a wealthy businessman, talks to Mr. Symchuk and starts negotiations to buy the island as a personal retreat for himself and others who want to enjoy the area. Rowan’s project, which identified the otters as sea otters, will need everyone’s help for a long time.

     An interesting addition to the story comes periodically through the text in italics which gives a voice to the island. It is as if the island has reached out to Rowan and brought her to this place at this time. The reader sees the island asking for help to avoid the slaughter of the sea otters that occurred in the past.

     The novel contains rich language which is descriptive and full of imagery, with one example being: The island was in celebration, decked out gloriously in welcome. The grasses on the headland, starred with a thousand flowers, rippled and danced, and the ferns fringing the forest nodded and swayed. Around the rocks the ocean frothed with creamy; lace and the waves beneath Rowan’s little boat sparkled and shone as they carried her gently forward.

     The characters are realistic for their ages and situations. They are believable, from Rowan who misses her parents and is concerned for their safety, to the twins who are always pulling pranks and playing games. The dialogue is also believable and easy to understand. The plot has interesting connections with Rowan and her relationship with her cousins, the environmental concerns, the need to sell the island for money, and the real estate developer looking for commercial property. The voice of the island is an interesting twist as it hooks the reader and adds an element of mystery to the story.

     An Island of My Own, a reprint of the 1998 original, would be a great addition to a school, public or personal library. It would also be a great choice to read out loud for small groups, class or individuals. It would appeal to many readers in the intended age group.

Highly Recommended.

Deborah Mervold, an educator and teacher librarian from Shellbrook, SK., is presently employed by the Saskatchewan Institute of Applied Science and Technology (SIAST).

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

Copyright the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.

Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364
Hosted by the University of Manitoba.