4 out of 4 stars
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Readers who select Island Games by Caleb J. Boyer should know from the start that this is in no way your typical early adolescent adventure story. It does however appear that way from the beginning, but appearances can be deceiving. Written by a very young (preadolescent) writer, this book is a startling combination of the writing style and vocabulary of a young man somewhat enamored with young adolescent adventure/thriller stories and the literary plot devices and foresight usually found in much older and more experienced authors.
It starts with two friends waking on a remote and unpopulated (or so it would appear) island with only hazy and fleeting memories of their pasts. As they begin to explore the island they find that their only sources of survival supplies are strategically placed around dangerous obstacles by an unseen and unknown force. The two boys have to overcome a series of challenges, such as braving shark infested waters and attacks by wild animals to gain access to their survival supplies. After each challenge they face, they are transported by an unknown mechanism (the boys appear to become unconscious or incapacitated) to another section of the island where they face new challenges and a new environment. Throughout this strange and often perilous journey the two friends must rely on their bravery, determination, resourcefulness, and camaraderie in order to survive each challenge.
The most impressive part of this story is the way the author works in a sense of uncertainty and an almost sinister quality to the progression of events, giving the reader the strong impression that the protagonists are being mentally and emotionally, in addition to physically, manipulated by whatever force is controlling the set of 'games' that the two main characters appear to be trapped in. During the course of the story the boys have dreams or flashbacks, as they appear to be, of waking up in a laboratory setting for brief periods before ‘waking up’ to discover themselves back on the island. That and the persistent game like nature of their island challenges convinces them that they are being held in some kind of staged game or experiment. This makes them more and more determined to progress through the different elements of the island and ‘beat’ the game and figure out who is behind it all. During some of these challenges the two boys face, or are given to believe that they are facing, life threatening danger, such as molten lava and a cave collapse and have to rely on a mental fortitude beyond that which one would normally expect from characters so young.
Many readers who pick up Island Games may interpret much of the detail as just the way a young author tries to make the story more exciting, but, and I shall tread carefully so as to not trigger a spoiler alert, close to the end of the story it is possible to connect the dots (the dots being the perceived game/experiment and the series of near death experiences) into a rather sinister picture. What is truly remarkable is that as a scientist and an adult I found myself overcome by such an intense sense of uncertainty in what my original perception of the story was by the time I reached the end, and that an author so young was capable of inducing such a powerful realization of life’s uncertain and unpredictable nature.
I rate Island Games by Caleb J. Boyer as 4 out of 4 stars. I would recommend that anyone who has a predilection for contemplating complex arguments about morality and ethics should read this book, as should anyone who wishes to bear witness to the knowledge that children have concerning the fleeting and sometime dangerous and unhappy nature of life itself as well as the mental fortitude required to deal with those aspects of life. As adults we tend to think of children as being too naive and too innocent to understand the sometimes dark, unknowable, and cruel side of our existence. Caleb Boyer’s book very effectively disproves that notion.
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