Sunday, August 8, 2010

Exiled to a Dystopia

As we continue to hurt our environment beyond repair, wage war with the very elements that are keeping us alive, and are basically taunting mother nature to show us who is really boss, it is no wonder there are tons of environmental apocalypse stories hitting the shelves these days. While X-isle, by Steve Augarde, hovers between a fairly recent apocalyptic flooding that changes the face of the earth and a depressing dystopia, it certainly sends a message that we have no idea what we are in for...

Baz is living on the mainland, which has been ravaged by the floods. Food is scarce, living conditions are terrifying, and the one ray of hope for a young boy such as himself is X-isle. The island used to be a school for girls that has become a home base for the Eck brothers and their father, Preacher John(Eck Island...X-isle...). They use their diving equipment to salvage for canned food and supplies that they trade with people on the mainland. When they visit the mainland, they sometimes take young boys (no girls) to help work on the island. While no one really knows what goes on at X-isle, they are certain it has to be better than the mainland and therefore try everything to get the Eck brothers to take their sons to the safety of the island.

When Baz gets to the island with the other boy accepted that day, Ray, they realize the island is certainly no oasis. The boys are put to hard labor, tortured by the two older capos, and terrified of Preacher John and the Eck brothers. Despite the grueling living conditions, though, they still have to admit it is better than the mainland. They might only get one can of food a day, but at least they are sure they will get a meal every day, unlike the mainland. But the boys are starting to suspect the brothers don't bring the boys back to the mainland once they get too big (and therefore pose a possible threat to the brothers). When the cook is deemed "too big" and gets sent back to the mainland, it becomes obvious he was left at sea since the brothers went diving instead of trading. Then the boys decide they must devise a plan to save themselves or face the fate of countless other boys in the polluted waters off the island. With the help of Gene, the very smart mechanic boy, they devise a way to build a bomb with the only fuel they possess- farts! Now they have to find a way to complete their plan before it is too late...

If you have read quite a few dystopias or post-apocalyptic stories and are looking for another, this is a good choice, but I wouldn't give it to someone who hasn't yet been sold on the sub-genre. It is a decent story with interesting characters, but it isn't the best YA dystopia out there. The story has a tendency to drag in a few places and lost me at times. I would have appreciated a little less of the middle 250 pages where the boys settle into life on the island and more of the aftermath of their bomb. It was a very long book for how little actual action existed in the whole story.

The reading level is fairly low- probably best for grades 7-10, but the author and setting are British. This leads to some language and slang that may be confusing for a younger, less sophisticated reader. I would suggest this story for either an adult interested in YA dystopias or a student who has read a significant amount within this sub-genre. While the story wasn't the best dystopia I have read this summer, it does provide a world of topics for discussion. What will happen when the delicate environment finally lashes out at us? Which is worse, starving on the mainland or working to death (quite literally) on the island? How do people react in dire circumstances? It even discusses the difference between murder and self-defense at great lengths. This book is an avenue for many great discussions!

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