Welcome to another edition of Sharing Our Snacks, in which Tessa and I each recommend YA brain food that they think the other would enjoy crunching and munching! Since T lives in Pittsburgh and I live in Philadelphia we can no longer share an enormous middle-of-the-night bag of potato chips and tin of onion dip from Turkey Hill like we used to, so we had to find another way to share. Check out our other Shared Snacks here. You can recommend books to us, too—contact us!
Tessa recommended The Other Side of the Island to me because she thinks “it’s a nice little eco-apocalyptic that is often overlooked, and there’s a tree octopus in it.”
A Review of The Other Side of the Island by Allegra Goodman
By REBECCA, June 4, 2012
Honor Greenspoon: our protag, she vacillates between wanting to fit in and wanting to uncover the secrets of the Island
Will & Pamela Greenspoon: Honor’s parents who have a hard time following the rules on Island 365
Quintillian Greenspoon: Honor’s little bro, a—gasp!—second child
Helix Thompson: Honor’s friend, he is dedicated to finding out the truth behind the propaganda
Mrs. Whyte: Honor’s teacher who drills the students in Safe propaganda
Miss Tuttle: librarian whose job it is to cut all passages that mention non-controlled weather out of books (the horror! the horror!)
Octavio: a tree octopus!!! <3!!!
Honor moves into the Colonies with her parents when she’s 10, in the 18th “glorious year of Enclosure.” On Island 365, Earth Mother and the Corporation have regulated the dangerous weather that wiped out much of Earth’s population, and with that regulation comes a strict system of social controls. Honor has to get with the program fast in order to fit in—and she does. It’s just . . . well, something very strange is going on across the Island and no one is talking about it.
The Other Side of the Island is a classic dystopia: a force beyond human control (in this case, the weather) threatens humanity and a system must be implemented to ensure their safety; of course, a repressive regime has sprung up alongside/in service of these precautions. And, actually, it’s the classic-dystopia-ness of Island that sets it apart from the slew of YA dystopian series that we’ve seen in the past few years. The dystopian setting is not contrived as a backdrop for romance, nor is it a thinly-veiled set-up for an adventure story. Rather, Allegra Goodman has written a stand-alone dystopian novel that reminded me of Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We (1921) more than anything else (I love that book!).
Another unique quality that shaped The Other Side of the Island is that our protagonist, Honor, is only ten when the book opens, and twelve by the end of the book. This shifts the focus of the novel from potential romance or elaborate adventuring to a much simpler story of a young girl who is young enough when she arrives on the Island to really just want to fit in. In a world where children born each year after Enclosure are named after the corresponding letter (Honor is born in the 8th year after Enclosure, etc.), Honor is told that she will never fit in because the “h” in Honor is silent, setting her apart from all her peers. And, eventually, Honor agrees. This is a dimension of the powers of the desire to fit in that doesn’t get explored much in dystopias featuring teen characters—either such a character has lived under the dystopian regime her whole life and rebels one day because of a catalyst, or she has never conformed and her rebellion finally rises to the surface. For Honor, her loyalty is to her parents at first, but little by little she begins feeling embarrassed by her parents’ inability to easily conform to the Island’s rules and regulations.
When Honor’s parents disappear, taken by Safety Officers, Honor questions the price of conformity and begins to dig into the mysteries of the Island—for example, who are the Watchers that no one seems to pay attention to?
what were this book’s intentions? did it live up to them?
Here is where things get just a touch sticky for me in reviewing. I thought The Other Side of the Island was a totally solid novel. The world-building is good, if pretty dystopian-standard, and there are some totally chilling moments. But . . . there was, I dunno, no joy in the book or something. It’s Goodman’s first YA novel, although her adult fiction, Goodreads informs me, is critically acclaimed, and it felt just a touch like an adult voice that got edited into a YA book because it was a story about a kid. That’s not to say that the writing isn’t good—it is. It’s that I didn’t feel like the goal was for me to identify with Honor and see this world through her eyes. This left me feeling a bit outside the book.
Part of this, I thought at first, can be attributable to Honor’s age. As a 10 and 12 year old she is in some ways harder to relate to than someone older who has a more complex view of things. But then I thought about other books that have young protagonists that absolutely rock in terms of voice and characterization, like Rebecca Stead’s amazing When You Reach Me or David Almond’s awesome Skellig, and I now think that maybe the book is just kind of detached and emotionless in voice.
Further, I felt as if there was a larger story that Goodman had in mind and she limited the novel to only the piece that featured Honor. I really liked that there was a whole other story about Honor’s parents that we only get to see in glimpses, but as an adult reader the simplicity of Honor’s perspective made it seem as if perhaps the book would have been more dynamic if we had gotten to follow Honor’s parents’ story as well.
I would totally recommend The Other Side of the Island to anyone who likes a classic dystopia—the best things about the novel are Goodman’s world-building and the shifts in Honor’s character. The ending was a bit abrupt and, although it seems to suggest one thing, as Tessa pointed out, “the creepiest part, though, is that the hopeful ending might be a fakeout, if you go back and reread the first paragraph.”
Ok, I’m not going to lie: the thing I liked most about the book was Octavio the tree octopus. Tessa recommended this book to me because of Octavio. People, I am obsessed with octopi. If you ever come across a book with an octopus in it you simply must tell me. I just want MORE OCTAVIO!
The Giver (The Giver #1) by Lois Lowry (1993). The Giver is one of the best examples of character-driven, subtly-constructed, dynamite YA dystopian lit! It was long before the sub-genre became super popular, so it’s outside comparison. If you’ve never read this one, it’s a total recent classic.
The Wind Singer (Wind on Fire #1) by William Nicholson (2000). This is an understated fantasy-dystopia-quest hybrid of awesomeness. Like The Other Side of the Island and The Giver, it has younger protagonists who go on a quest to discover the secrets of their town.
procured from: the library, after, like, 8,000 years of waiting for my hold to arrive