Like The Girl of Ink and Stars, The Island at the End of Everything is another stand alone MG novel from the wonderful Kiran Millwood Hargrave. Big thanks to Jazz Bartlett and Chicken House Books for the review copy, though this in no way affects my review. Minor spoiler below in relation to a sensitivity issue I felt needed to be raised, but other than that this review is spoiler free. I hope you enjoy it.
Amihan lives on Culion Island, where some of the inhabitants - including her mother - have leprosy. Ami loves her home - with its blue seas and lush forests, Culion is all she has ever known. But the arrival of malicious government official Mr Zamora changes her world forever: islanders untouched by sickness are forced to leave. Banished across the sea, she's desperate to return, and finds a strange and fragile hope in a colony of butterflies. Can they lead her home before it's too late?
The Island at the End of Everything is very much Amman's book. It is her story and her drive that pushes each scene forward, the force behind the action. That said, underlying Ami's story - what essentially drives her - is the main theme of the story, and its key messages.
Acceptance. Respect. Care. Love. Family. Kindness. Friendship.
Essentially, this book is about accepting the differences between us all, whatever they may be, and treating each other as we wish to be treated. It is a universally important message, one that should be adopted by everyone, but the author writes in such a way that the message is not 'preaching' or 'cloying'. It is simply there, and it is beautiful. Furthermore the book educates the wider population about an affliction that affected so many people but is not known in such detail by all, myself included. Again this is not done in an overaggressive way though, as if it were nonfiction, it is simply a part of the story; a tale which educates.
The author's writing is wondrous, crafting an engaging tale whilst subconsciously educating. She crafts a rich, vibrant world that pulls you in and refuses to let go, for which some of the visual images described are simply incredible. It was a world I never wanted to leave. Magical in every way.
Ami was a wonderful main character to follow. Her strength in adversity from the very first page was inspiring, right until the last. The friends she made were equally as powerful, in their own right, but it was Ami's courage that kept me hooked.
The ending meanwhile was beautifully written, bringing a tear to my eye, but that's all I'll say about that.
In essence, it is a beautiful tale that intrigues, inspires and informs.
My only point for review (it's not really a negative, more a disagreement) would be regarding two sections of dialogue, in the last few pages of the book, regarding the 'villain' character Mr Zamora. Minor spoilers below, and possible triggering discussion.
Throughout the book Mr Zamora is shown to have a severe dislike of Culion's inhabitants, the Touched and their families, stemming from a need to stay clean. It is apparent to be so severe that in one scene he scrubs his hands raw until they bleed. In my opinion he exhibits some symptoms of OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, though symptoms can vary); a mental health disorder which can range from mild to severe in those who suffer from it. I'm not going to go into the hows and whys too much, but it is a misunderstood condition that is often made light of, to the detriment of those who suffer from it.
In the closing pages of the book Ami notes:
"By all accounts he lived in a prison of his own making in the end. His sickness got worse and worse - it was punishment enough I think." - Page 234.
"He did not have a life even a quarter as good as mine had already been." - Page 234.
As someone who suffers from OCD, I found both sections of dialogue hurtful. While I can understand the character's position, and therefore author's intention, and certainly do not condone Mr Zamora's actions, I found the choice of words somewhat insensitive. I understand that the character is insinuating that Mr Zamora felt the consequences of his actions more clearly than anyone else could have caused, that he atoned for them despite the heroes being unable to bring him to justice, therefore providing a sense of closure to the story, but I do think it could have been worded better. To have his condition, and therefore perhaps OCD, referred to as a 'prison', 'sickness' and 'punishment' and to have it insinuated that the character didn't lead a full life because of his affliction, is hurtful, especially when reading a book where the key messages are compassion and an acceptance of difference.
That said, I have seen no similar discussion so I may be the only one who feels this way. This is, as with all reviews, my opinion. Having spoken gratefully with the author via Twitter, she has explained that while it may seem similar to OCD, Mr Zamora actually suffers from mysophobia, which she too suffered from. The choice of words are personal to how she felt though she understands how they could be seen as hurtful. It's a genuine misunderstanding, a difference in interpretation, and was never meant to be seen as damaging. You can find the full thread from this morning here, and I'm so grateful to Kiran for explaining and understanding; she truly is a wonderful author and human being.
I still award The Island at the End of Everything a 4* rating, as everything else was wonderful. Marvellous. Breathtaking. Kiran Millwood Hargrave is a wonderfully talented writer and I am excited to see what she brings out next.
Thanks for reading my review, and as always do feel free to leave a comment below or @ me on Twitter!