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Book Review

Orphan Island by Laurel Snyder has been reviewed by Focus on the Family’s marriage and parenting magazine.

Positive Elements

Spiritual Content

Sexual Content

Violent Content

Crude or Profane Language

Drug and Alcohol Content

Other Negative Elements


Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

“Eight on an island, orphans all. Any more, the sky might fall.” Jinny has heard this rhyme as long as she can remember. She and her seven young companions live on an island, where they find plenty of food, live in huts and read books someone left long before. The island is beautiful and idyllic. Bees and snakes are harmless. If a child gets close to a cliff’s edge, the wind pulls him back.

Just as there are unique rules of nature on the island, there are other rules of protocol handed down year after year. The only real sadness the children experience comes with the Changing. Each year, a boat arrives carrying a new, young child. The oldest child then gets into the boat and sails away into the great unknown.

The oldest remaining child becomes the Elder, and the new child becomes his or her Care. The Elder is charged with keeping things running smoothly for all and teaching the Care how to survive and thrive on the island.

The book opens with Jinny saying a painful goodbye to her friend Deen and taking over as Elder. She becomes a surrogate mother to the new girl, Ess. Caring for Ess is a lot of work, but Jinny quickly grows to love her. She tries to teach the girl reading, swimming and other important aspects of island life. But Jinny would rather keep Ess far from the water than teach her to swim. She displays this same over-protective behavior in all of her lessons.

Jinny is frustrated when the others take over. They are better able to teach Ess because they allow her to fail. Jinny is further annoyed when she overhears the other kids saying how Jinny always wants things her way. Deen had even pointed this out to them and told them how to placate her. Jinny feels a growing restlessness and irritation as her year as Elder progresses. At the same time, she doesn’t want to leave her paradise for wherever the unmanned boat plans to take her.

A year passes, and a new boat comes. It carries a boy named Loo, who will be the Care of the new leader, Ben. To everyone’s shock, Jinny decides not to go. She pushes the boat onto the shore and says she’s staying. She says she will remain Elder and care for Ess and Loo.

Ben is not only disappointed, but like the other kids, concerned. Jinny doesn’t heed their warning about how breaking the rules of the island may be disastrous for everyone. Tension and frustration fill the once-peaceful camp.

Loo is a difficult child who Jinny finds hard to love. Meanwhile, her sweet Ess is growing up and bonding with another child. Food, once available in abundance, becomes scarcer. The island animals become dangerous and hostile. Even the severe weather indicates something has changed on the island.

When Jinny discovers she is bleeding from between her legs, she is convinced it is another indication she has broken the island. Still, she remains. Only after a rattlesnake bites nearly kills Loo does she realize she must leave. She takes the ailing boy and boards the boat, hoping someone can save him once they reach wherever the boat takes them. In this act, Jinny puts aside her fear and selfishness at last.

Christian Beliefs


Other Belief Systems

The island itself has a magical ability to keep the children safe, but nothing is explained, except that when the children work together, the island works for their benefit.

Authority Roles

No adults appear in the book. The oldest child on the island is in charge. Jinny initially believes it is better to have the island than to have parents. Ess remembers having a mother. In the end, Jinny wonders what kind of adults would send kids to an island to fend for themselves.


The kids plunge a knife into the head of a squid, making a jagged tear in the flesh. They stick their hands in the head to find an ink packet. A swarm of bees attacks two of the boys, stinging them all over. Jinny smacks Loo across the face in anger. She is horrified and calls for help from the others before she does more harm to the boy. A rattlesnake bites and nearly kills Loo.



Discussion Topics

Get free discussion questions for this book and others, at FocusOnTheFamily.com/discuss-books.

Additional Comments/Notes

Puberty: As Jinny grows older, the top of her dress begins to get too tight. She discovers she is bleeding between her legs. She fears she has broken something inside herself. She rips up a bunch of rags and makes herself a belt that will go around her waist and between her legs to contain the blood.

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Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. The inclusion of a book's review does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.

Episode Reviews



Readability Age Range

8 to 12


Laurel Snyder






Record Label



Walden Pond Press, an imprint of HarperCollins Publish


On Video

Year Published



National Book Award Longlist, 2017


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