Review by Astrolorraine -- Island Games by Caleb J. Boyer

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Review by Astrolorraine -- Island Games by Caleb J. Boyer

Post by Astrolorraine »

[Following is a volunteer review of "Island Games" by Caleb J. Boyer.]
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3 out of 4 stars
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What would you do if you woke up on a beach with your best friend and both of your memories had been wiped? Caleb J. Boyer explores this through best buddies Matthew and Ryan in Island Games: Mystery of the Four Quadrants. Throughout the book, the boys relentlessly overcome challenges together and learn the value of trust, teamwork and friendship. Boyer actually wrote this when he was 12 years old himself, which is an accomplishment. I think this book is best suited to audiences around that age. The story kept reminding me of the Famous Five adventures but set in a dystopian Hunger Games-like environment.

I liked the pacing best in this book. These poor kids can’t catch a break and scary things happen to them all the time. I never had time to get bored and I very much enjoyed the author’s imagination and creative obstacles. I also appreciated that even though the kids are practically interchangeable at first, their personalities start shining very early on and I had no trouble remembering who did what. There wasn’t much in the way of character backstory seeing as their memories have been wiped, but I didn’t miss it since their personalities make up for it.

One thing that actually irritated me at first but that I started appreciating before the end was the saccharine positivity that permeates the story. After each jest, no matter how harmless, the boys instantly and sincerely apologize to each other and promise to focus again on the task at hand. They barely feel deep frustration, anger or panic at their plight, but you constantly read about their gratitude and how the challenges are helping them grow. A huge emphasis is placed on how they only survived each obstacle by sticking together and listening to each other. I even wondered if these Island Games were a sort of twisted Friendship Camp or Teamwork Camp as these concepts are hammered in constantly. However, once I took this as a Boy Scouts kind of story I didn’t mind anymore. It is unusual for a dystopian story to be so wholesome or for its moral to be so blatant, but I enjoyed it once I shifted my expectations. Many people might be looking for just that kind of wholesome story to give their kids or grandkids to read.

What I disliked most was the style. It was decent enough, and I’m sure I’ve read worse books written by adults, but a few things jumped out at me. One is the absurd amount of repetitions. Every time a character thinks something, we get to read it again almost verbatim as the boy tells his friend about his thoughts. Other times, the kids have a conversation, and then we read that dialogue again just a page later as one of them gratefully reflects back on the interaction. This is not a quote, but this will show you how a lot of the book went: “Matthew then realized they would need to find fresh water and food very soon, or they wouldn’t make it another day. ‘Hey Ryan, I was thinking and we really need to find fresh water and food soon, or we’re not going to make it another day!’ Matthew said to his friend. Ryan knew that Matthew was right and reflected on how grateful he was for having his best friend with him throughout all these crazy challenges.”

The next two issues I feel are “adult” nitpicking, and if I had read this story at 10 years old I would not have cared or even noticed. But they might bother a slightly savvier, older reader, so I want to mention them. One is the overuse of exclamation marks to heighten suspense. Many chapters end in variations of “… and what they saw was totally unexpected!” One chapter actually ends in “…Or was it?”
The last thing is that the author could have used more “show, don’t tell” in his writing. We are often told that the boys are “extremely exhausted” after doing something that took only one line to describe. Classic writing advice is to instead describe the exhausting activity in more than one line and let the reader imagine for themselves how that would make them feel.

All in all, this is a great read for younger YA audiences. The story’s message is very much about the value of friendship, teamwork and courage in the face of adversity. The book was clearly professionally edited, there is absolutely no profanity or erotic content, and there is an interesting afterword by the author at the end. There is even an Easter egg link at the end that doesn’t solve the mystery, but gives a fun additional angle to one part of the story. Because I liked everything about it except some stylistic issues, I give this book 3 stars out of 4.

Island Games
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Post by NDeMeer »

This sounds like an interesting concept, but I think I'd get very annoyed with the constant repetitions of thoughts into dialogue haha! Thanks very much for the insightful review.:)
Happy reading! :techie-studyingbrown:
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Post by derialist »

I think if the author was 12 at the time of the writing, that's an impressive feat. I enjoyed reading your review, especially the parts that frustrated you, and I do share a similar bias to yours, but I'm curious to read this young author's story.
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