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

I actually bought this book when it first came out way back at the beginning of this year, but it has sat on my bookshelf undisturbed, though beautiful, since then. Every time I picked it up, I was reminded of my experience of Hargrave’s first novel, The Girl of Ink & Stars; I struggled with it. I could tell that it was beautifully written but I just didn’t get it, it felt to me like the elegant prose was stealing all the limelight and that the story had been completely forgotten, so I wasn’t exactly looking forward to The Island at the End of Everything (honestly, I’m not really sure why I bought it).

I kept putting it off, choosing other books over it from my increasingly out of control To Be Read pile until something terrible happened – I was in danger of being without a current read for a full day and a half. Dun-dun-duuuuuun.

I finished a book and was due to pick up a pre-order during my lunch break in a couple of days and there was no way that I wasn’t going to start reading the new book the second I got it, so I needed something short I could get through quickly and without fuss (I don’t two time books, it’s insulting and you only end up hurting yourself): enter The Island at the End of Everything.

Ami has been born and raised on the isolated leper island of Culion. Despite witnessing the challenges of the disease in her friends and family, her childhood is a happy one until the arrival of Dr Zamora and a new set of laws from the Director of Health. Torn away from those she loves and treated with prejudice in a new community, Ami’s only concern is to find a way home to her mother, but first she will have to get past the cruel Dr Zamora.

I was completely blind-sided by this book. The premise took me completely by surprise; when was the last time you read about a leper colony? In a children’s book? I love how original it is. If I’d known, I would have read it MUCH sooner. The reason that I didn’t know is that this is one of those books where the blurb is hidden in the front cover and the back cover features a only small, ambiguous extract to show off the lyrical prose (*retch*). I wish they wouldn’t do this; if I want to know what the writing is like before buying the book, I’ll be able to skim through a whole book of it – there really is no need to repeat it on the back. I really don’t know why I bought it now, this would normally be enough to turn me to boycott; it must have been on offer.

I was also pleasantly surprised by the characters. I feared quaint, two dimensional characters that made little sense but the cruelty of Dr Zamora was hard hitting and interesting, making him and all those he hurt seems more human. The reaction of the children to their situation feels realistic, their desperation and urgency rubbing off onto me and making it impossible to put the book down until the end of the story.

Then something really annoying happens in the last 40 or so pages. They are entitled ‘THIRTY YEARS LATER‘ and the chapter count starts from 1 again.

Nooooooooooooooo.

I’m not a fan of these crystal ball endings as a general rule (in my opinion, even Harry Potter didn’t pull it off), I prefer being allowed to imagine what happens after the story has finished. In this particular case, it also turned what had been an interesting, unusual and surprising book into the twee, quaint, lyrically happy ending that I had feared whilst avoiding it for so long.

I would recommend The Island at the End of Everything (but only if you ignore the last 40 pages)!

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