My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars
Length: 304 pages
Release date: 9 August 2018
Link is a fish out of water. Newly arrived from America, he is finding it hard to settle into the venerable and prestigious Osney School. Who knew there could be so many strange traditions to understand? And what kind of school ranks its students by how fast they can run round the school quad – however ancient that quad may be? When Link runs the slowest time in years, he immediately becomes the butt of every school joke. And some students are determined to make his life more miserable than others . . .
When a school summer trip is offered, Link can think of nothing worse than spending voluntary time with his worst tormentors. But when his parents say he can only leave Osney School – forever – if he goes on the trip, Link decides to endure it for the ultimate prize. But this particular trip will require a very special sort of endurance. The saying goes ‘No man is an island’ – but what if on that island is a group of teenagers, none of whom particularly like each other? When oppressive heat, hunger and thirst start to bite, everyone’s true colours will be revealed. Let the battle commence . . .
‘The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away,’ she said.
‘What’s that supposed to mean?’
‘Read your Bible.’
After some thought I’m going to round my rating up to 3.5 stars because M.A. Bennett has balls to write what she wrote, and I respect that. The Island is much less orthodox than her debut S.T.A.G.S, which says something when S.T.A.G.S. concerns Etonian, Riot Club-style sixth formers murdering their C2DE classmates. The bold direction has justifiably led to some controversy in reviews, but at a time when it’s popular for YA novels to veer overly polite, I can’t help but appreciate Bennett’s risk-taking.
Although there are pacing issues at the start, the plot speeds up once the group land on the island around the 25% mark. From there it descends into a nerdy, mixed gender Lord of the Flies narrated by our outcast protagonist Link. Although named after Abraham Lincoln, there’s nothing remotely presidential about Link, who at his sports-focused private school (S.T.A.G.S. for jocks) has no friends, no respect and no charisma.
On the Island, everything changes.
You should be warned going into this book that none of the characters are likeable. There honestly isn’t a single heroic or even innocent personality you can root for. The Island shows you their darkest sides and teases you with glimpses of redemption that never quite come to fruition. There were many moments I shook my head in disbelief or disgust at what I was reading. It is a Lord of the Flies retelling after all, and you should not be expecting anything else.
Despite how horrible everyone was being, despite the train wreck I saw unfolding, I was on board with The Island and ready to sing its praises until the ending. The ending didn’t work for me on several levels, the most important being that it’s unrealistically, repulsively self-indulgent. Above all the epilogue was insufferably smug. Additionally, a domino collapse of revelations delivered rapidly in the closing pages gave the feeling of cheapening or commercialising everything that had taken place before, wrapping it up in a neat, marketable bow of ‘mistakes made, lesson learned’ with such nonchalance that I wondered if any lessons had in fact been learned.
I’ll be real, it’s strikingly memorable, even though or maybe because it left that bitter taste in my mouth.
Overall The Island is an exciting, fast-paced thriller with more than a touch of Stanford prison experiment. It toys with your emotions and hangs them out to dry; the whole thing amounts to a colossal rollercoaster ride of a mindfuck.
M.A. Bennett has a wild imagination for sure. I’ll be on the lookout for S.T.A.G.S. 2.
*Thanks to Bonnier Zaffre and NetGalley for providing a review copy of this book! All opinions represented remain my own.*