________________ CM . . . . Volume XX Number 6. . . .October 11, 2013


Escape from “HONU” Island.

Tom Freel.
Grand Bend, ON: tfreel@hay.net, 2013.
[122 pp.] unpaged, trade pbk., $6.17 [plus shipping on amazon.ca]
ISBN 978-1-49037-601-1.

Grades 3-5 / Ages 8-10.

Review by Dave Jenkinson.

* /4



As the boys watched the natives depart they began to think over the events of the afternoon. First there was the native, still tied to the pole on the beach. Some how [sic] they must set him free without putting themselves in danger. They now knew the island’s volcano was active and posed a grave danger to everyone on the island. They also knew that there were large jungle cats, probably jaguars on the islands also posing a danger. They knew as well that the natives feared the volcano, and worshiped the plane, the albatross, and the panther. This knowledge could be used to their advantage in the future.


Self-publishing has never been so easy, and today anyone who is willing to pay money up front can become a “published” author. And while a few self-published works have been enormous financial successes that are then trumpeted by the media (think Fifty Shades of Grey), I would venture a guess that most self-published books go largely unnoticed and consequently provide their authors with little or no financial return.

     Escape from “HONU” Island is a self-published book, and, loosely speaking, it is a Robinsonade or desert island story. Bill Johnson is an anthropologist at the University of California, Berkeley, and he and his 12-year-old son, Rick, are on their way to Puerta Angeles, Mexico, where they are to meet Rick’s mother and sister. However, the pair have interrupted their trip to fly some four hours to Clarion Island in the Pacific to go deep-sea fishing. Piloting a single engine float plane, with only his son as a passenger, Bill, some two hours into the flight, encounters an electrical storm which knocks out the aircraft’s instruments. Unsure that they have sufficient fuel to reach their destination, Bill decides to turn the plane around in an attempt to return to the mainland. Spotting three large fog shrouded islands, Bill elects to set the fuel-starved plane down on the water adjacent to one of the islands. Though the pair land safely, the plane is damaged. In MacGyver-like fashion, Bill is able to establish their location and conclude that these islands are not on any chart. As well, given that they are well off their filed flight plan, the likelihood that any organized search for them would actually succeed is extremely slim. Consequently, father and son have no choice but to become modern-day Robinson Crusoes while awaiting rescue or figuring out how to fly or sail back to the mainland. And so their adventure begins!

      As the contents of the excerpt suggest, Escape from “HONU” Island is not without action. Not only must the pair deal with their basic survival needs (food, water, shelter), but the other two islands are home to warring tribes of natives who both covet the island on which the Johnsons are stranded. In addition to the danger presented by the island’s active volcano, there is also the threat of a black panther as well as that potentially provided by the native man (referred to in the excerpt) who runs off into the jungle as soon as he is released from his bonds. But action, by itself, does not make a plot, and Escape from “HONU” Island exhibits many weaknesses, the sum total of which makes it impossible for me to recommend the novel for purchase by individuals or institutions.

      The major weakness in Freel’s writing is that he forgets that he should “show, not tell”. The result is that the book reads more like an outline for a novel rather than a well-developed story. Additionally, it is also impossible for readers to construct a timeline that indicates how long father and son remain on the island. Repeatedly, Freel uses phrases like “over the next few days” or “several days have passed”, but nowhere does he supply readers with a cumulative total of the days, weeks or months that the two are marooned. Having adults as major characters in a novel meant for juveniles can become problematic, and Freel tries to mask this situation by repeatedly referring to father and son as “boys” as in “The boys decided on a plan” or “As the boys watched the natives depart...” Taku, the freed native, is referred to as a “warrior”, a term suggesting that he, too, is an adult, but Freel again employs the term “boys” when collectively referring to Taku and Rick. Nonetheless, there is only one boy on the island, and that is Rick.

      Minimally, Freel needed to engage someone to edit his manuscript for spelling and grammar errors. Misspellings abound, including the repeated use of “lead” for “led”, “it’s” (the contraction of “it is”) when the possessive “its” was required, and “alter” (to change) when “altar” (a place of worship) was the needed word. Numerous sentence fragments (eg., “Full war paint, feather headdress, a lance in one hand, and a battle ax in the other.”) required correction. Paragraphing was quite inconsistent or nonexistent. For instance, the first three pages of Chapter 4 consist of one long paragraph. The use of many, many more commas would have assisted in a clearer reading of the text.

      However, the most important type of editing that is too often absent from self-published works is that which is provided by the “objective” professional editor whose job it is to point out the “flaws” in an author’s work. In the case of Escape from “HONU” Island, “stuff” just keeps happening, and “things” just keep falling into the characters’ laps without some “logic” to make it believable. For example, Chapter 4 begins with Rick and Bill observing the arrival of “7 large war canoes, each holding about 10 warriors, and 2 even larger catamarans....” Though the two are watching “[f]rom their vantage point high on the cliff...”, even from this distance, they can identify that one of the natives is carrying a “long spear decorated from tip to tip with albatross feathers.” How could they possibly know it was albatross feathers? (My fact-checking also questions the presence of albatrosses in this area). On the next page, while still on their distant perch, father and son can even identify that the white substance left as an offering by the natives was salt. Later, Bill finds himself at the entrance to a temple, and since “it was starting to get dark...[ he] pulled aside the vines and lit a torch preparing to enter the temple.” From where did the torch suddenly appear, and with what did Bill light it.” An author simply cannot ask readers to suspend all disbelief.

      As a physical printed book, Escape from “HONU” Island also exhibits some faults. Though 32 page picture books often do not have page numbers, it is rare that a lengthy novel would be unpaginated. The book’s printing has created some odd “situations”. For example, one page bears the text “Chapter 6" with the rest of the page being left totally blank. Why? Chapters 7 & 10 both begin at the bottom of a page that already carries the text of the previous chapter. Again, why? Freel has elected to self-illustrate his book with a half dozen illustrations, with a portion of the last one being repeated on the cover. It would appear that the illustrations were originally rendered in colour, but, with the exception of the cover, the amateurish artwork has been reproduced in shades of grey. A useful addition would have been a map of “HONU” island as it is difficult for readers to locate themselves [and the characters] as the virtually nonstop action takes place.

      Though my review of Escape from “HONU” Island may appear to be harsh, it is not meant to be. The simple fact is that, when any person or firm publishes a book and then expects libraries to use part of their budgets to purchase that book, that work must meet the quality criteria that would be applied to every other book of its genre. Escape from “HONU” Island simply doesn’t meet those standards.

Not Recommended.

Dave Jenkinson, CM’s editor, lives in Winnipeg, MB.

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

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