I really wanted this book to be awesome, because I have a burning desire for just about every Australian kids or YA book to be a roaring success and excellent writing and awesomely mind-blowing. A few of them do end up being just that (and I inevitably end up raving about them on my blog). Others try valiantly to get there and almost do and I become quite fond of them. But then there are some that just prove disappointing on all accounts, and this is how I feel about The Secret of the Lonely Isles, Joanne Van Os' offering of a boy who goes on a sailing adventure with his Aunt to discover family secrets.
My feeling is that this was meant to be a tale of adventure aimed at children, except it lacks that feeling of excitement and danger. It feels by-the-numbers. It feels a little too simplistic and contrived. There is way too much set-up for too little pay off, and when ‘the adventure’ actually begins we are just about halfway through the book already, and by that time it feels like the author has already run out of ideas.
If this book was meant to be an adventure story, it should focus on the adventure – the thrill and hardship of sailing, that sense of secret and discovery, of the quickened pulse when you know that stakes have just got a whole lot higher. Adding in all the family problems at the beginning of the book does not bring much to the story, and once again it all just feels unoriginal and contrived – all the boxes have been ticked. In my opinion it would have been better to put them all on the boat to begin with and have the problems festering and causing tension and becoming claustrophobic within the confines of the boat. Having those first few chapters as just a basic info-dump of Jem’s family problems kind of feels like a cheap attempt at emotion-grabbing, and then it is all just resolved so simply and easily in a few pages at the end. This is not rewarding for the reader.
Also, writing dialogue/dialect exactly the way the characters sound and speak is annoying and hard to read. I didn’t enjoy and think there are ways around it so it isn’t so obvious to the reader. For me, the dialogue didn’t ring true to begin with – it seems to be aiming for something that it doesn’t quite reach.
I don’t think The Secret of the Lonely Isles is bad or the writing lazy, I just don’t think it quite achieved what it was trying to be – I think perhaps it just doesn’t understand its intended audience? Good potential, particularly for a school/educational readership, but I wouldn’t recommend.