*I received an advance reader copy on NetGalley in exchange for a fair review.*
Olive Gagmuehler, a bullied teenager, decides to go to the pirate-themed Castaway carnival that’s just come back in Texas. Unfortunately, her bullies gang up on her at the carnival. Left with no other option, Olive runs away into the maze where teenagers have been known to disappear until she lands on a lost island. Two groups of teenagers and kids, the Lions and the Panthers, are at war on that mysterious island, unable to go home. Olive joins them and tries to survive in the wild as well as break the island’s curse keeping them here. But is it really a curse or something much bigger than them that intends to teach them to face their demons?
There are few negative points in that novel, so let’s start with that! The first one is nothing major, only a few typos and mistakes here and there. It was not enough to be annoying, but another round of proofreading would make The Castaways almost perfect. The last point (I told you there were few) is the lack of plot about the mysterious island throughout the book. Sometimes it even seemed as though the kids were not living away from their family and friends, stranded like by magic on that island with no apparent way home. Although I understand the author meant to keep the mystery surrounding the island, I feel like this particular topic could have been tackled more times during the story. Instead, the characters appeared to forget or at least not think a lot about being in an unknown place with perfect strangers. Perhaps their questioning could be present? That’s what I would have loved to read. It would also make for a more realistic situation as I doubt we’d easily go about our business, forgetting how far we are from home and to question ourselves about how we can get home.
Now, how about we talk about the positive points (which are legion)? Let’s go! I found the subtitles to be enticing – it was original and gave a sense of foreboding, which I appreciated. The chapters are generally short, which makes for a fast read. The idea of mixing bullying with a magical island full of warring teenagers and kids is marvellous! Plus, the story’s got quite a lot of action. Just when you think you can start to relax, something unexpected happens and has your blood boiling with excitation! This book contains poignant bullying; it was well-done (unfortunately, I speak from experience so this story particularly moved me) and is laced with a lesson to stand up for oneself, a good surprise! It shows that bullying is eternal, it’s always been there and will keep on being unless we stand up to it. In my opinion, this book managed to show the effects that bullying can have on people, mostly on teenagers. As for the characters, the author made me care about them and more particularly about Olive’s dangerous yet adventurous situation. They’re all different and I could well imagine the teenagers, a feat in itself! The characters seem alive, which was fun to read. As for Olive, the main character, she is a strong heroine (more than she knows) and likeable. I could easily identify with her. Her development as a character was interesting to watch; it was done through highs and lows, just like in real life.
If you’re looking for realistic reactions as well as both inner and external conflict (beautifully conflicted Olive and others), look no more! The Castaways is a gold mine of realism, conflict, and solutions. Not only was this book thrilling, but it was also a pleasure to return to every single time. There were twists and turns I wouldn’t have expected and a pinch of humour that was more than welcomed in the midst of all these emotions. Speaking of emotions, they were well-woven in the tale, which will have you caring for the characters in no time! And they feel real, at least for Olive. By the way, there is a sweet romance in the story and even though I’m not overly fond of romance, I must admit this one was cute in its own right. It didn’t take the space required for the action. Did you know that the main character, Olive Gagmuehler, is somehow ill? She suffers from hyperventilation, which was probably caused by her being bullied. I found the idea of having her suffering from some kind of illness was different and a good move. I connected with her more easily and it makes us want to help her somehow, which only proves my point of the characters being unique and alive in our eyes. The basic needs and survival situations were respected – there was the matter of hygiene, odors, bladder, and else. The descriptive imagery used was great and the vocabulary was diverse. I felt as though I was once again a teenager, stranded on that island with those other kids. Last but not least, the ending wraps up the book quite nicely. It’s like a present with a cute bow on it.
The Castaways is a book I thoroughly enjoyed. It made me experience all kinds of emotions on that roller coaster ride and even managed to make me cry towards the end (and I rarely cry in books nowadays). It is perfect for fans of Peter Pan (yes, the classic story!), Lord of the Flies, and the Red Queen series because of the non-stop action and unexpected twists.
I give The Castaways a rating of 5 out of 5. It was that fun and really got me deep in the emotions, which I loved! I even have a hard time deleting it from my Kindle Fire to make room for other books – but really, I think I’m going to keep it. Who knows, I might just re-read it one day, something I like to do with books that left their mark on me. Honestly, I wanted to read more of it and I still do. While recommending this novel to other readers, I will definitely look forward to Jessika Fleck’s upcoming works.