Searching for a good read

This week’s book review is of Searching for Sky by Jillian Cantor.

Cantor’s book has an intriguing premise – teen-aged Sky and her “brother” River live on a deserted island somewhere in the Pacific, having landed there as very young children when the boat on which they were sailing with Sky’s mother, Petal, and River’s father, Helmut, sank. After the Accident- in which all of the other people on the boat were killed – the four castaways began an idyllic life on Island, surrounded by Ocean.

Sky remembers nothing of life in California, having been a baby when her mother took her on the boat. Her mother claims California was a land of skeletons, and she has never shared any of her memories of their prior life or Sky’s father with Sky. Helmut has taught the family how to survive on fish and coconuts, using what they have to hand to live – and he is proud of Sky for her practicality, a practicality that dreamer River does not share. Shortly before the book opens, both Petal and Helmut have died, and Sky and River are finding it harder to gather enough food. River dreams of his mother, lost back in California, and when he sees a boat, contacts it, setting the events of the book in motion.

Cantor imagines a difficult transition to modern life for Sky and River but for very different reasons. Sky is coddled by a previously unknown grandmother when all she wants to is to reunite with River and return to Island. River finds life in California unlike his younger memories, as his mother is dead – killed along with Sky’s father by Helmut in a cult mass murder reminiscent of the Jim Jones massacre.

Teens will likely enjoy <i>Searching for Sky</i> more than grownups. The stilted language Sky uses may feel more believable to them, and her obsession with River and desire to return to the only life she’s known may carry them past logistical sticking points that older readers (with less sympathy for Sky) find distracting. Still Cantor’s story is interesting and the reader will find it hard to put down, wanting to know more of Sky’s and River’s stories and how they will reenter modern life.

I gave Searching for Sky two stars, but honestly, I think teens – and more mature middle grade readers – will enjoy it more than I did. The story is a page-turner and the premise is fresh enough that all but the pickiest readers will overlook Cantor’s stylistic choices (using capital letters to emphasize Sky’s names for important parts of the island, for one) and a few pretty large plot holes to focus on the emotions of the story and Sky’s journey to find herself.

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