Title: Mary Underwater
Author: Shannon Doleski
Publication Date: 2020
The Plot In Five Sentences Or Less: 13 year old Mary Murphy lives on an island that borders the Chesapeake Bay. Her father is home from prison and as a result, her life at home has become much more unsettled. One bright spot is that she seems to be growing closer to her friend Kip as they work on a science project together. As her father demonstrates increasingly violent behavior, Mary strikes upon a way to focus her scientific mind on a project that will take her off the island: building a submarine.
My Take: I thought that this was a strong debut from author Shannon Doleski. The story is straight forward and the theme of female empowerment is conventional, but Doleski does not waste the reader’s time. At no point does the narrative bog down in heavy description or indulge in extraneous side stories. This is Mary’s story of coming into her intellectual powers and experiencing love for the first time and that is enough. I also found the basic mechanics behind submersibles to be fascinating. Due to the love interest, I found this to be more of a tween than juvenile selection.
One Interesting Note About The Author: According to her website, Shannon Doleski curses too much.
The Plot In 5 Sentences Or Less: When Crow was an infant, she washed ashore onto a tiny island located off of the coast of New England and a man named Osh found her and raised her as his own daughter. Local rumor held that Crow had come from the leper colony on Penikese Island, but there was never any proof of this. Now older, Crow has begun to question her origins and wants to know who her biological parents are. She and Osh visit Penikese and there find the beginnings of a mystery that will bring great wealth but also great danger to their small island.
My Take: I greatly enjoyed Wolk’s novel Wolf Hollow and was excited about Beyond the Bright Sea. I was impressed by Wolk’s description of the Elizabeth Islands and I thought that she did an excellent job of situating the reader into the rhythms of Crow and Osh’s life on the ocean. Wolk makes a good choice of framing the narrative around 3 characters, each with their own rough charm and simple decency. Some of the mystery turns on events that are a little too neat and coincidental, and I believe that book would have been stronger with a twist along the way. However, this remains a solid choice for young readers looking for a mystery or a historical fiction.
One Interesting Note About The Author: Lauren Wolk lives on Cape Cod and has visited many of the Elizabeth Islands.
The Plot In 5 Sentences Or Less: The green boat comes to the island once a year with a new child and then ferries the eldest child on the island away — thereby obeying the rule that only 9 children may live on the island at a time. But this year seems different for Jinny because her best friend Deen is leaving, thereby making Jinny the elder and breaking her heart at the same time. In Deen’s place arrives Ess, an adorable tangle of black curls whose responsibility for care falls to Jinny. As Jinny bonds with Ess and learns how to raise a child, she begins to question the rules of the island and why the children are even there in the first place. Jinny soon learns, however, that with curiosity often comes trouble.
My Take: Children stranded on an island inevitably brings to mind the book Lord of the Flies, but most of the similarities between the two novels end there. Much like William Golding, Snyder is interested in examining power structures, but her focus is more internal. The character of Jinny is growing, changing, and coming to new realizations — this change is more central to the theme than any fighting between the characters. Orphan Island is therefore in some ways more like Peter Pan or the Chronicles of Narnia than the Lord of the Flies. It is a book about childhood and the anxieties of it coming to an end. It is the realization that one can’t stay safe and comfortable forever. I applaud Snyder for not giving the reader easy answers to complicated questions and for making characters that defy pat generalizations. At the end of the book, we are not certain whether Jinny’s choices were wise or stupid, selfish or selfless. This troubling ambiguity makes great reading, so I would happily suggest this book to any mature middle grade reader that is ready to struggle with deeper questions.
One Interesting Note About The Author: According to her website, Laurel Snyder is a terrible gardener and loves black licorice.