Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Review: The Island at the End of Everything by Kiran Millwood Hargrave

2017 Chicken House  288 pages 

Set in the Philippines at the beginning of the last century, Ami lives with her mother on Culion Island. It’s a beautiful place covered in lush forests and surrounded by a blue sea that matches the sky. It’s Ami’s home and the only place she has ever known. But Culion is an island for people with leprosy who are sent there to live on the edge of the world away from civilisation. Ami’s mother is among the infected but Ami herself remains untouched, so when government official Mr Zamora arrives to transport the islanders who are free from the sickness to another island, Ami’s world is torn apart. Banished across the sea to an orphanage, Ami is determined to get back home and crosses great lengths to return to her sick mother once more, on the island at the end of everything.

This story was simply stunning. I don’t know how I can describe it in many more words. I was swept up in Ami’s narrative from the first page and I stayed engrossed until the very last page. Having read Millwood Hargrave’s debut novel The Girl of Ink and Stars last year, I already knew I was going to enjoy her newest release if it possessed half as much magic as its predecessor. So beautiful was the story I read it in near enough one sitting.

This is easily one of the most impressive children’s books I’ve read for a long time. I believe that if adult readers can find joy in a world marketed for young booklovers, then the author has succeeded in writing a book that stands out from the rest. I enjoyed the characters in this story immensely and the relationship between Ami and her mother was so raw and touching it was pulling on my heartstrings by the end. Yet what I loved most about the story above all else was the themes that flowed throughout. Children’s fiction doesn’t have to be simple and one-dimensional, and the author proves this by exploring how damaging prejudice can be and how wrong it is to judge others by their appearance.  Kiran Millwood Hargrave’s writing creates a world that is so real yet so gloriously magical you can’t help feeling anything but raw emotion for her characters.

The use of Filipino words and phrases throughout was something I was especially glad the author decided to include. It gave the story a sense of truth and helped me transport to the setting of the novel. Culion Island is indeed a real place and it was turned in to a leprosarium in 1906, becoming known as “the island of no return”. I previously knew nothing about the history of the Philippines and after I finished this book I did a little searching on the web to find out more. Millwood Hargrave has managed to create a beautiful story from a sad history which I think will be loved by readers of all ages.

Overall rating: 4.5 stars

My copy of The Island at the End of Everything was sent to me by The Bookbag and my review originally appeared on their website.

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