I have passed by this book on the bookstore shelf a number of times. It piqued my interest but never quite enough for me to choose it over whatever other book I was there to get that day. I then started seeing countless reviews for this story when the trailer for the movie came out. I was getting closer to getting it. Then my mom got it from a student as a gift and my chance to read it was in front of me. I am so glad I was finally able to read this one. It will be added to my list of top books this year for sure.
Jacob Portman has grown up on his grandfather’s outlandish stories about the children’s home that he lived in during World War II. These were tales of the children he lived with all who had some extraordinary power, such as levitation and invisibility. As he grows, Jacob is taught that his grandfather’s stories are just tales used to help his grandfather cope with is rough childhood; one of leaving home and his family in order to save his life from the Nazis.
It isn’t until his grandfather dies that Jacob learns that all his stories are actually true. The children, the island, and the house are all real and they are in danger.
Jacob journeys to the island and is swept away in a new world. It is dangerous but exciting. He must decide which path his life will now take.
Just from looking at the cover I had a feeling this book was going to be on the darker side, which is one of the reasons I avoided it for awhile. While I like dark stories they have a tendency to make me feel a bit scared and apprehensive. As I was reading the word unsettling was used to describe the home and other aspects of the island and it clicked with me. While this novel is darker, it is also unsettling. Turning off the lights after reading at night made me feel a bit nervous, as if there was something waiting in the shadows for me. It actually gave me quite interesting dreams as well.
I think the atmosphere of this book was helped along by the old photographs that were peppered throughout the novel. I loved this aspect. I felt myself become even more emerged in the tale by being able to glance at the faces and look into the eyes of the people in those pictures. You get another level of connection that can only be achieved by including these vey real photographs.
The children all have a peculiarity to them. (Side note: I loved the use of the world peculiar instead of strange or odd. Right away you get the idea that things are a bit off but you aren’t given the preconceived idea of thinking of this kids as freaks or being wrong. They are just different and intriguing). Some of these peculiarities seem quite harmless, such as levitation and invisibility. But others seem more sinister such as the ability to reanimate the dead.
This aspect also enhanced the unsettling atmosphere. I found myself wondering how I would react to meeting these children. I think I would be apprehensive and nervous at first. As I read I found myself not quite sure how to read some of them. Some seemed positive and helpful right away while others made me pause. I wonder where these abilities will go as the series progresses. Are all peculiarities good things? Or will we learn that some can cause harm? I feel it will be more about the person who possesses these abilities and not the abilities themselves.
The book starts with Jacob putting his life into two categories, Before and After. Life as it was before his grandfather died and his life after his grandfather was killed. Before he lives an ordinary life and After he now lives a life full of questions and danger.
Jacob is a teenager and as many teenagers he is at a crossroads. But unlike other teenagers he is not choosing career paths and colleges, he is trying to decided between living in two very different worlds. He is an asset in one which is not only dangerous but requires him to leave all he knows behind him. While staying in his current life is quieter, calmer but not all that much safer, it would be full of paranoia. Jacob is being given a choice. He has to decide where he wants his life to go, how he wants to live. He has no one to answer the question for him and we watch as he struggles with the choice.
Who is Jacob meant to be, seems to be the ultimate question of this book if not the series. He is not weak as he once thought. He is not worthless. He has an ability that can save many and now he has to make the decision about what to do with that ability.
I was wrapped up in this story. I found myself being pulled along even during moments when I was a bit nervous. I wanted to see what happened next. I wanted to see what choices Jacob would make. I am excited to start the next book and to see where this story goes!