Posts Tagged ‘The Island’

I got Gary Paulsen’sThe Island‘ years back, when I was browsing at the bookshop. I got it because the theme of the book appealed to me. For some reason, I never got around to reading it. Then in the last two weeks, when I was flitting from one book to another like a butterfly (I read 100 pages in one book, 75 pages in a second one, 15 pages in third one, and 45 pages in a fourth one – if I had read all these pages from one book, I would have finished reading that book!) and my heart told me that I am getting into a reading slump, I wondered which book I should start next which would retain my attention, and Gary Paulsen’s book leapt at me. I read the first page and immediately knew that this was the one.

The story told in ‘The Island‘ goes like this. Wil Neuton is an introverted fifteen year old boy. One day his father comes home from work and tells Wil and his mother that they have to move to a new town in the next few days as he has to take up a new position there. After some initial shock and chaos, Wil’s mother and Wil accept the inevitable and move to the new town which is a four-hour drive away. This new town is a small rural town, everyone knows everyone, people are warm and friendly, and there are lots of farms nearby. Wil becomes friends with a girl called Susan, whose parents run the dairy farm. There is a river nearby and Wil discovers an island in the middle of the river. He finds a boat in the riverbank and one day he rows to the island. Wil loves the solitude in the island and he sits there and observes the herons, the loons (a bird which looks like a duck), the fishes and the frogs and before he knows magic starts happening.

I will stop here. You should read the book to find out what happens next.

The Island‘ is a YA (Young Adult) book. But it is no ordinary YA book. It reads like a cross between Henry David Thoreau’sWalden‘ and Tove Jansson’sThe Summer Book‘. Contemporary YA books these days have a romantic story at the core and explore other themes around that, which are based on a contemporary issues or on one of the big universal questions. ‘The Island‘ veers so much away from this model that one could almost guess that it didn’t come out recently. When I checked the publishing year, I discovered that it was 1988 – that is more than thirty years back. That was a time when YA literature wasn’t what it is today, and a writer could write a contemplative, introspective novel like ‘The Island‘. I can’t imagine a YA novel like this being written today – the landscape has changed so much. I am thankful that Gary Paulsen wrote this in a different era. Gary Paulsen’s prose is incredibly beautiful – there were beautiful passages throughout the book that I couldn’t stop highlighting. Every chapter starts with a small passage written by Wil and many of the chapters have a story or an essay by Wil at the end. They both are beautiful. I loved most of the characters in the book. Of course, Wil towers above them all, because this is a novel about an introvert after all, but I also loved Susan, Wil’s friend, (Susan’s and Wil’s friendship is depicted so beautifully in the book), Wil’s parents, and a few other people who make an appearance.

I loved ‘The Island‘. It is one of my alltime favourite YA novels. I am ashamed that I didn’t read it all these years, though I have had it in my shelf, but I am glad I finally read it. It might have been even a good thing that I read it only know, because I think I understood the story and appreciated it better now than I would have done if I had read it all those years back when I first got the book. I am hoping to read more Gary Paulsen books now.

I will leave you with some of my favourite passages from the book.

“Part of our problem is that we run around naming things without asking them if they want to be named. Then after we name them, they don’t know they’re named anyway. A tree doesn’t know it’s a tree; a fish doesn’t know it’s a fish; and if the fish did know, it would probably be upset by it. Who wants to be called fish?”

“Part of him wanted to see her, and part of him wanted to be alone, but the parts were like two separate people and did not seem in conflict.”

“Wil took out the notebook and worked more on the piece about his grandmother. He could remember her so well, he thought, and yet when he tried to write about her and being with her, it would come out wrong. Not wrong, exactly, but just not complete. The words worked, but they didn’t work right because he didn’t know enough about how to use them. After an hour of writing, or trying to write about her, he put the pencil down and leaned back against the side of the boat.
The images that came to him were so clear, but when he tried to describe them – no, explain them…and there it was, there was the trouble with it. He wasn’t writing about his grandmother. He was explaining her. And that, he thought, was not a way to learn about her, about what she had been to him.
He took up the notebook again and started to write, and this time he didn’t explain or describe; he simply wrote what she meant to him, what she was as he saw her, and it thundered out of him. He could not stop it, and as he wrote he remembered more about her, small things, and he wondered, wondered that he could remember them now and have them be so real but not have known he was seeing them at the time.”

“We sat at Susan’s house in the kitchen and Susan’s mother brought us lunch, what they call dinner, and I didn’t pay so much attention to her, the way you do with adults you’ve just met because usually they aren’t all that interesting, but the light came in the kitchen window over the sink. It was a pale light because it came through the curtain and the curtain was yellow and so it made the light gold, a pale yellow gold color that had little bits of dust riding in it and the light but her face, hit Susan’s mother’s face, and set it to shining gold right at the cheekbone and up into her eyes.
It lighted her face to make it glow, and when she turned it moved into her hair, which was a gentle brown but turned into gold with the sun from the kitchen window and it was pretty, more than pretty, but still not so much. I saw it, but didn’t think so much of it except that the light seemed to make her more than she was, maybe; set her off the way a frame sets off a painting.
But later at the island I saw the evening light which was gold and it hit Susan, gold coming through the air hit Susan, and made her face shine and moved into her eyes and into her hair and it made me think of her mother, made her look like her mother.
No. That’s not quite right. It wasn’t that she looked like her mother so much as that she and her mother had the same…same core. The light hit them and made them the same. Not just made them look alike. But made them the same.”

Have you read Gary Paulsen’sThe Island’? What do you think about it?

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