Last winter, I had the pleasure of reading Elizabeth Atkinson’s heartwarming story, The Sugar Mountain Snow Ball. The middle-grade author has released her newest title, The Island of Beyond, a charming story of adventure, friendship and so much more.
Eleven-year old Martin is perfectly content spending his summer playing video games or perfecting his toy soldier town of Martinville. But his father has other ideas. He believes that Martin should be “more of a boy.” Go on adventures, explore the great outdoors, and most importantly, try new things.
Which is exactly why his parents have decided that he will be spending his summer with with his great aunt on the island of Beyond.
“Listen to me, Martin. This is a chance of a lifetime. You’ll get to spend an entire month doing all kinds of amazing things- learning to climb the highest tree and catching enormous frogs and holding your breath for two whole minutes while you explore the bottom of the lake.”
To Martin, this sounds like a complete nightmare. While he has lived in the comforting suburbs of Delaware his whole life, Beyond is more than just a change of scenery for him. Aunt Lenore’s house is one of the very few left on the island, and with no cable or cell service, there is little connection to the outside world. Not only has the house itself begun to fall apart in time, but Aunt Lenore has become senile and forgetful with age. So although his father claims to have spent the best years of his own childhood here, he isn’t quite so sure.
His first couple of days on the island are anything but pleasant. That is, until he meets Solo, the mysterious local boy who he has been warned about. Martin is deeply intrigued by Solo – perhaps because this boy is everything that Martin isn’t – he is brave and fearless, independent, and totally at ease with himself, the wilderness, and the world. He finds himself looking forward to their daily adventures together.
During his summer, Martin learns that not everything, or everyone, is always as it seems. Solo isn’t just a wild boy who can teach him how to canoe, swim, and climb trees. His unexpected friendship with Solo is unique and special ; allowing for Martin to grow, to gain a sense of wonder for the world, become more confident in himself, it even teaches him how to love. And as for old Aunt Lenore – she isn’t crazy at all, but surprisingly intuitive. Aunt Lenore tells Martin that he has it – a genuine curiosity for the world. He’s smart and eager. He’s different than other boys at that age. Nothing like his father was at his age. And that’s a good thing, she assures him.
Martin finds something he has been searching for for a very long time -Acceptance. “I had never felt more like myself than I did here. No one acted like I wasn’t normal. I could be whoever I wanted to be.” Middle-age readers can resonate with the protagonist’s desire to fit in, as well as his quest to conquer some of his deepest fears. However, readers of all ages can relate to Martin’s quest to accept himself for who he is.
Atkinson’s ability to craft beautiful stories with an underlying message is what truly makes her stand out as an author to me. She understands her audience perfectly -their strengths and weaknesses, even their biggest fears. She knows what they want to say and puts into words for them.
Younger readers will surely appreciate the mystery and unexpected twists of the story. For the child who could benefit from pausing the video game, The Island of Beyond is a book that will surely entertain. But with its captivating message, the novel will appeal to readers far beyond its middle-age audience.
You can purchase her book on Amazon.
For more information about her books and author visits, visit Elizabeth Atkinson’s website.