Friday, July 6, 2012

Review: "The Other Side of the Island" by Allegra Goodman

Title: The Other Side of the Island
Author: Allegra Goodman
Publisher: Razorbill, 2008

Honor, born in the eighteenth year of Enclosure, has just moved to Island 365 after living with her parents in the Northern Islands for most of her life. Now that they are under the watchful eye of Earth Mother and her Watchers, they cannot act as freely as they did when they were on their own, before they were found and brought to their new home. They can't sing out loud, they must follow the rules, they must stay away from the ocean, and they cannot own any books at home. They must not be Unpredictable. But the problem for Honor is her family is Unpredictable, and they are very different. Her parents have another child and refuse to give him back to the government, they sneak out at night and don't come back until morning. Honor and her friend Helix find out that bad things happen to people who don't fit. They disappear, and they never come back.

In a literary landscape full of dystopian literature, it's nice to come across a book with a more original premise that doesn't have a fated love story or love triangle. It's a disconcerting vision of the future that makes one uneasy, a world where climate change has destroyed much of the earth, leaving only islands dotted here and there across the oceans. Little details here and there show how much people are aware of nature and the earth, or seem to be aware of it, such as wearing sun hats and applying sunscreen. However, in this world, weather is supposedly controlled by Earth Mother, and Enclosure, which basically means a big dome encloses each island completely. The sky is covered by an overlay with a picture of a perfect sky or a moon with seven stars, depending on time of day.

Earth Mother is something like the Big Brother of George Orwell's 1984, always in control and watching, but never actually seen in the course of the book. More immediate villains are those who uphold Earth Mother's reign, such as Miss Blessing at Honor's school. The way they treat people is chilling, be they adult or child, man or woman. And the orderlies, people whose brains have basically been rewired to do exactly as they are instructed, do all the hard work around the island, all the landscaping, cleaning, cooking, transporting, etc. They sort of reminded me of the Avoxes in the Hunger Games trilogy, unable to speak and basically slaves to those in power.

One of the most important things Earth Mother does to take power from the citizens is taking away their memories, mostly those from their childhood, but more if you are particularly unruly. Think about losing all memories of who your parents are, how you grew up, learning only what you are told in school and not being allowed to question it, or even have the ability to question it if you can't remember otherwise. That was the scariest thing about this future to me.

I was not a big fan of the writing style. Sentences were short and simple for the most part. I didn't really like the terseness, but it didn't really take much away from the book as a whole. My biggest problem was the ending, which seemed to stop too soon, with an author's note that said she did it that way to leave it up to the reader's imagination what the outcome is. I know not all books end in neat little bows, and I don't like it when they do, but stopping mid-action makes me feel like it's something of a cop-out.

All in all, a fresh take on dystopian future that is worth reading in the sea of dystopias out there right now. It's a good read for middle grade readers and strong older elementary readers, and should appeal to boys as well as girls.

Disclosure: I got this book from the library.

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