Dear reader, life is too short for crap books.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

2 Cool 2 Be 4 Gotten: Part 2

The Island Keeper by Harry Mazer

For some reason, small children go crazy for wilderness survival stories. Island of the Blue Dolphins, Call It Courage, Hatchet, The Boxcar Children... it probably has something to do with stories like this taking place in a parentless world that doesn't go all Lord of the Flies-y. It's also interesting that stories like these (particularly the first three) can be so exciting when there's only one human character.

The Island Keeper is a terrific example of the genre that is usually overlooked, and I think, currently out of print. Rich, overweight, spoiled, and generally useless, Cleo runs away from home to escape her overbearing family and memories of her dead sister. Cheesy set-up, typical 80s kid lit trauma-drama, but it gets better.

There's supposed to be a cabin there. But when she arrives, she finds it's burned down. She stocks up on food from a camping store, but her supply is quickly ransacked by animals. Her canoe is destroyed, winter is coming, and suddenly, what started as a somewhat bratty adolescent rebellion becomes very high stakes.

Cleo's transformation is compelling, not only in the way she learns to fend for herself, but also in the way her relationship with nature changes as nature gets brutal. The Boxcar Children go back to being normal kids after their pine needle bed ordeal, but Cleo changes in some very serious ways that almost seem like they belong in a Rick Bass novel, not a children's book.

4 comments:

Ang said...

I'm the one weird exception to this rule. Kids do like those surviving on their own stories - but somehow I never did. I do remember reading "My Side of the Mountain," where some kid runs away to the Catskills. I don't remember much about the book except if you need to tan a deer hide, you can hollow out an oak tree stump and fill it with water. I did like the Peanuts kids, though. They were sort of on their own. They cooked Thanksgiving dinner alone, after all.

brady said...

Well, if you like this sort of thing, the next "Mary Meets the Space-Men" should be Tunnel in the Sky by Robert Heinlein.

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