United By Pop received a free copy of ‘The Island at the End of Everything’ in exchange for an honest review, all opinions are our own.
Title: The Island at the End of Everything
Author: Kiran Millwood Hargrave
Overall rating: 5/5
Great for: Fans of diverse fiction with a timeless message.
Themes: Children’s fiction, middle grade, historical fiction.
Review: It’s been a fortnight since I have read this book, and I needed that interval between reading and reviewing to properly formulate my thoughts.
If you have ever been of the impression that middle-grade fiction can not be just as emotional and hard-hitting as adult fiction, then you need to read this book! I experienced love and loss, pleasure and grief, and blessing and damnation whilst reading this – and that was only in chapter one!
This is the story of fictional Ami, living in 1906, in the very real island of Culion in the Philippines, whilst it was under colonial rule by the United States. The only life she has ever known has been lived on this segregated leprosy colony, with her mother who suffers from this endemic:
“They have many names for our home. The island of the living dead. The island of no return. The island at the end of everything.”
Government officials deem her fit enough to lead a new life, which leads her away from her mother, her home, and her happiness. She travels across the sea to an orphanage, overseen by a venerable nun and the not-so-venerable Mr Zamora. His instant dislike of Ami and his desire to rid himself of the infestation of ‘dirty’ orphans like herself, makes her already dire predicament even more importunate. It is there, however, that she finds the first flourishing of friendship amongst her grief, and begins to see that life is larger than one island, situated at the end of everything, and one man, who would see it all burn.
Despite the young protagonist, and the similarly-aged audience it is aimed at, this book has a universal appeal due to the themes it focuses on. Written with an almost poetic penmanship, this features the recurring themes of love, loss and friendship. Both the themes and the storytelling unfolded beautifully, page after page, much like the wings of the butterflies that adorn the front cover.
Some of these themes can be universally acknowledged, and remain poignant even today. Many characters suffer from leprosy and are treated as lesser because of that. Both the protagonist and the narration regularly calls out this ignorant thinking, and this novel works hard to denounce this hateful and incorrect commentary.
There is a call for more diversity in literature, particularly in the middle grade and young adult genres. Whilst not an own voices novel, the author has ensured authenticity and a contraction of any ableism in her novel, by pitching her ideas to sensitivity readers and engaging in thorough research about the topics discoursed. It is heartening to see such an accurate portrayal of marginalised characters and an often overlooked historical period.
The hate that shadows much of this book culminates in an emotional end scene that sees both an encroachment of the outdated thinking and a growth in the character’s outlook on life. This development is one that can be shared with the reader, as we too are invited to unfurl our own wings and take flight…