Scar Island

Scar Island
Age Range
Release Date
January 03, 2017
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Jonathan Grisby is the newest arrival at the Slabhenge Reformatory School for Troubled Boys--an ancient, crumbling fortress of gray stone rising up from the ocean. It is dark, damp, and dismal. And it is just the place Jonathan figures he deserves.

Because Jonathan has done something terrible. And he's willing to accept whatever punishment he has coming.

Just as he's getting used to his new situation, however, a freak accident leaves the troubled boys of Slabhenge without any adult supervision. Suddenly the kids are free, with an entire island to themselves. But freedom brings unexpected danger. And if Jonathan can't come to terms with the sins of his past and lead his new friends to safety... then every boy on the island is doomed.

Editor review

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Lord of the Flies meets Animal Farm... for Tweens
Overall rating
Plot/Characters/Writing Style
Illustrations/Photos (if applicable)
Jonathan arrives on Slabhenge Island, where there is a windswept reform school administered by evil, grasping, gnarled men. At roll call one morning, when the fifteen boys are made to say they are present and "content and well-cared for", all of the adults on the island are electrocuted and killed in a freak lightning accident. The boys are dumbstruck, but having been treated badly, are not sad that their oppressors are gone. Headed by the oldest inmate, Sebastian, the group decides to neglect to inform the mail carrier, who is the only person to visit the island regularly, of this turn of events. Instead, the boys break into the wardens' rooms, eat their food, and generally enjoy throwing off their yokes. Of course, there are dark secrets to why the boys are there, power struggles, and changes of allegiances. Jonathan befriends Colin, as well as a librarian who never strays from the bowels of the school, and comes to terms with why he has been sent away from home. Sebastian tries to wield his power, and ends up punishing the boys for minor infractions in the same way the wardens had punished him. When a storm hits the island, the boys must band together in order to survive, and realize that being on their own might not have been the best idea.
Good Points
This has a Series of Unfortunate Events feel to it, especially at the beginning, when it is difficult to pin down the place and time of Scar Island. It has a prewar, almost British feel to it at first (all of the wardens are wearing wool, and the head warden wields a sword), but the setting is never confirmed. It doesn't really matter-- the boys are on their own with limited adult contact, but are well-provisioned with food and coal for the generator. In this way, it is very much a middle grade fantasy, although there is no magic or actual fantastical elements.

With nods to both Lord of the Flies and Animal Farm, this is a fast-paced adventure for readers who want to envision a world where children who are mistreated are able to turn the tables. The encroaching storm adds an element of survival to this, and there is also a bit of a mystery concerning Jonathan's placement in the institution.

While this was not a book that I personally enjoyed, I can see it appealing to a lot of readers in the target demographic. It is unlike most of the middle grade books I've come across, although it does have some elements of sadness, and yet shows a tremendous understanding of what tweens want to read. Hand this to reluctant readers who like survival, adventure, or books that show children overcoming adversity.
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