3 out of 4 stars
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Island Games by Caleb Boyer follows the plight of Matthew and Ryan when they find themselves in a mysterious game of survival. The teens awaken on the shore of a deserted island with little memory of their life before, and they must rely on their enduring friendship to sustain them through the tests and tasks ahead.
The book's plot has elements reminiscent of Indiana Jones and Hunger Games. It features battles with hybrid creatures, elaborate traps, and life-threatening weather conditions. As the teens travel around the island, they try to stay alive long enough to discover who (or what) is carefully orchestrating their adventure.
Conceptually, the novel is solid. A mysterious element lurks in the corners of the action-packed chapters, and it keeps the reader moving forward. There's rarely a dull moment, and nearly every page presents a new challenge for the pair in (sometimes) unexpected ways. The vocabulary is simple, and the book is short making it ideal for escapist readers. The dialogue is humorous at times, and the text seems to be professionally edited.
While I did find the direction of the plot interesting, the author failed to flesh it out in many ways. The pacing leaves little room for descriptions and character development, and I couldn't envision the island. I wish the author had included some sensory details. Crucial details are missing altogether in places, like how many beasts the boys are fighting at a time. Why, if they've lost most of their memories, are they so confident of their friendship, and how does a complete memory loss even function in progressing the plot? Because the text lacks descriptions, the happenings are told mostly through dialogue, making many interactions unnatural. The basic outline of a plot is there but it fizzles out at the end in what's painted as a philosophical choice but reads as indecisive writing. There is one surprising plot twist, but the same idea is repeated multiple times and becomes predictable.
I must consider that Boyer was 12 when he wrote the story. While his writing could be more concise and descriptive, his best writing at 12 is better than most at 18. For this reason, I rate Island Games a 3 out of 4, with its action and uniqueness increasing the rating and the questionable execution decreasing it. I'd recommend it to middle schoolers who enjoy action scenes that aren't too gratuitous. If you like mysteries, you'll likely be disappointed in the ending.
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