Thursday, August 11, 2011

YA Fiction: Island's End by Padma Venkatraman

Publisher: Putnam
Date: August 4, 2011
Format: ARC
Acquired: won from WhatchYAReading
Read: out of anthropological interest
Pages: 230
Reading time: four days (I'm back in school, so reading times are much longer than they were over the summer)

From GoodReads: Uido is ecstatic about becoming her tribe's spiritual leader, but her new position brings her older brother's jealousy and her best friend's mistrust. And looming above these troubles are the recent visits of strangers from the mainland who have little regard for nature or the spirits, and tempt the tribe members with gifts, making them curious about modern life. When Uido's little brother falls deathly ill, she must cross the ocean and seek their help. Having now seen so many new things, will Uido have the strength to believe in herself and the old ways? And will her people trust her to lead them to safety when a catastrophic tsunami threatens? Uido must overcome everyone's doubts, including her own, if she is to keep her people safe and preserve the spirituality that has defined them.

My review: While I was in the process of reading Island's End, I wasn't really that thrilled by it. The plot moved so fast, I wished the author had added more details about the events that occur to help further flesh out both the characters and the overall feel of the culture. I didn't find the story particularly exciting, though it was interesting enough to keep from being boring. Some of the messages Venkatraman tries to get across, while good, came across as very blatant at times when more subtlety would have been nice.

But if you're like me, looking at reading Island's End for its anthropological information instead of thrilling action or magnificent writing, forget all of the above criticisms. After all, how often do you find YA novels that are about actual ancient cultures that have survived into the present day? While the novel's main anthropological details are on Uido's tribe's shamanic practices, other aspects of their culture are described as well, as is the clash of old and modern lifeways. What also struck me as unique and awesome is that the author treats Uido's shamanic training and visions not as part of the fantasy genre but as a part of her everyday life. Uido occupies a special place in her culture for what she sees and can do, but this well-respected place has always been occupied by someone with similar abilities. In this way, Venkatraman accents the differences between cultures in the treatment of what we Western culture people consider the supernatural. She helps readers become more respectful of others' lifeways by showing them a new perspective on such a subject.

The cultural detail in Island's End is enough to outweigh any other criticisms of the novel. Honestly, if you ask me in a few weeks or months, I probably won't remember most of the things I complained about in the first paragraph of this review. I hope other readers will end up getting as much out of this book as I did.

Island's End reminded me in many ways of The Bomb by Theodore Taylor (1996), though the endings are near-opposites.

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