As you may know, I read and review a lot of MG children's books and I'm always so amazed by the quality of the writing and the stories told. Then, once in a while, a book comes along that is truly special, standing out as something of exceptional quality. 'Nowhere Island' by Tania Unsworth is just that. It's powerfully written, visceral and vivid, beautiful and thought-provoking. A survival story with an ecological edge that seems to reflect us all: full of humanity, hope, horror and humility. Its cover by Kimberly Walker is sublime too. I absolutely adored 'Nowhere Island'. It's a classic-in-the-making and deserving of the highest accolades.
Hidden at the intersection of several busy highways behind the trees and scrubby undergrowth is an island, full of secrets. Four runaways - five, including Junk, the dog - are hiding out here. They're searching for safety, a better way of life. But all too soon they witness something they should never have seen and they're in deadly danger...
This is such a compelling premise: four children hiding on a wild island off the motorway. They use the land, they steal from cars, they learn ways to cook, clean and create. What comes to mind are survival stories like 'Lord of the Flies', but this is very different. At its heart, 'Nowhere Island' is about how friendship blossoms to become a form of family in extraordinary circumstances. Gil, Riley, Grayson and Pez are wonderful characters; they are living, breathing creations with difficult backgrounds who find themselves, free themselves, in the bond they make with each other. Their interactions are authentic, sometimes brutal and often heart-warming. The dialogue between them is spot-on, startling, searing and sweet. These are characters to cherish and study and come back to. I loved them - so much so that by the end of the book I was welling up.
'Nowhere Island' is also a book about our relationship to nature. Tania Unsworth has a rich storytelling voice suffused with the poetic and with an eye for the wild. There is beauty and truth in her prose. For example:
"It was the height of summer. The grass was at its tallest, the leaves were at their greenest, and the flowers in the meadow burned with colour as though lit from within.The air was still, too warped by heat to stir, and even the sun seemed motionless, a burning nail hammered into the flat blue wall of sky."
'Nowhere Island' is about the spirit of children transforming our perceptions of nature; to truly see the last remaining wild spaces. Like Gil with his hagstone, Tania Unsworth's writing offers us a vivid glimpse into an island sanctuary, where the wild in both nature and friendship is 'lit from within'. If this island is a metaphor for our planet, then this is a story of hope; freeing ourselves together with resilience, humility and with fresh eyes open to the beautiful changing world around us.
'Nowhere Island' is a book I want to use with classes and to read again and again. This is not only my favourite book of the year so far, it is one of my favourite reads ever.
Thank you to Laura Smythe and Zephyr books for sending this my way.