Thursday, July 27, 2017

Middle-Grade Review: Scar Island

Last year, I read and enjoyed both Some Kind of Courage and The Honest Truth (my favorite) by Dan Gemeinhart, so I was excited to hear that he had a new novel released this year. I listened to Scar Island on audio last month and enjoyed this suspenseful but poignant story.

Jonathan Grisby has done something terrible (exactly what is not clear) and has been sent to the unique Slabhenge Reformatory School for Troubled Boys. Slabhenge is located by itself on an island, and when the small boat drops Jonathan off there, he feels that he deserves this stark, gloomy-looking place that resembles a crumbling medieval fortress. The Admiral, who runs Slabhenge, outlines for Jonathan what is ahead: months of hard work, little food, and poor living conditions among his fellow inmates. Jonathan is ready to accept his punishment.

Soon, though, disaster befalls Slabhenge, and all of the adults running the place are killed, leaving the boys on their own. Jonathan, who does not want to return home even if it is possible, convinces the other boys not to tell anyone off-island by emphasizing that they will be on their own and can do anything they want. A cruel bully named Sebastian quickly takes over leadership of the group, though, and soon their freedom has again been curtailed. It’s not nearly as much fun as most of them envisioned.

A meek boy named Colin, who talks with a lisp, befriends Jonathan, and we begin to get glimpses into Jonathan’s past and the horrible thing that happened. Jonathan also begins to explore the distant corners of Slabhenge and makes some surprising discoveries. Suspense builds as the reader wonders whether the “good” kids will ever be able to regain control from Sebastian and his gang. When a huge storm hits the island, tension is cranked up even further.

Despite its dark themes, Scar Island is often a fun novel, with its fast pace, moderate suspense, and a nice dose of humor (which I always appreciate). In fact, at first, listening to the audio (sample below), I thought that perhaps it was just going to be all silliness, with the outrageous character of the Admiral in charge. Soon, though, its emotional depth becomes apparent, as hints of Jonathan’s past and what put him in Slabhenge are gradually revealed. Later in the story, literature – specifically classic adventure novels like Treasure Island and Robinson Crusoe – plays a significant role in the book, which made me like it even more.

I suspected this would be a modern take on The Lord of the Flies (another novel mentioned here) – and it is, to some extent – but fortunately, it has far more heart than that very dark classic. Young readers will love the adventure, suspense, and action, but it also has plenty of warmth and even humor to round it out and give it depth. I enjoyed listening to this exciting story and was rooting for Jonathan and the other boys to come out victorious in the end. The Honest Truth is still my favorite Gemeinhart novel, but Scar Island was very entertaining.

256 pages, Scholastic

(You can hear a free sample of the audio and order it from Audible at the Amazon link below)

Scar Island
by John BoydHardcover


  1. This sounds like a good one for middle graders. Where do you get your audio books from? I'm not great with audio, but would like to give them another try.

    1. I love audio! I always have an audiobook going and it helps me read so many more books than i would ever have time for otherwise.

      I mostly get review audios from the publishers. I rarely accept paper books (or e-books) for review because I have such a huge backlog & am always behind, but I do get new release updates from a few publishers for audios. I choose what I want, they send me links, and I download them to my laptop and then onto my iPod.

      If you work with any publishers for review books, just ask them if you can get their audio release updates, too.

      Hope you enjoy them!


  2. I enjoyed this book