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Orphan Island

Book review by
Mary Eisenhart, Common Sense Media
Orphan Island Book Poster Image
Wrenching emotional fable leaves many questions unanswered.

Parents say

age 14+
Based on 1 review

Kids say

age 10+
Based on 2 reviews

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Strong theme of teaching kids to read as early as possible, and of writing as a way of communicating with distant generations. Plentiful references, though not by name, to the books the kids read on the island, including The Giving Tree, The Little Prince, James and the Giant Peach, and Harry Potter.

Positive Messages

Teamwork, living up to your responsibilities, looking out for others, showing courage, trying to fix things when they go wrong, especially if it's your fault. Perhaps less positive message: If you dare to defy "the way it's always been" and try something you think is better, you'll wreak terrible harm on the world, your loved ones, and yourself.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Jinny is believably conflicted but works hard to live up to her responsibilities, especially involving Ess, her "Care." Departing older boy Deen and younger boy Ben are serious, responsible, and respectful of the rules. The younger kids shine at different moments, and mostly all work together for their little community.


Formerly friendly snakes turn deadly and bite a child. A child deliberately tears the legs off a starfish.


Puberty is the metaphorical serpent in this Eden. An older girl getting her first period, and knowing nothing about what's going on, is traumatic for her and the reader. She takes it as sure evidence she's broken the entire world, including herself, with her choices. Younger kids make jokes about her developing breasts. Vaguely phallic imagery involving snakes and their changing nature.


Lots of people and things have quirky names -- most notably, peeing and pooping are called "wishing."

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Orphan Island, by Laurel Snyder (Seven Stories Up), is about a magical island that's home to nine kids. Once in a while a boat arrives leaving a new, little kid and taking the eldest away to parts unknown. As her own turn to leave looms, protagonist Jinny, who's probably about 12, starts to seriously question this blind obedience to the rules and to wonder about the kids who went before them. Many questions are raised, never to be answered -- which a sequel could solve, but none's been announced. There's a lot of internal conflict (staying vs. going, holding on vs. letting go, being responsible vs. being free, etc.) and emotional turmoil, as well as traumatizing moments presented as simply inevitable, including leaving a wailing child behind forever. All of which can be a bit harrowing for sensitive readers, so we're recommending this for 10 and up rather than the publisher's 8 and up.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Grandparent Written bygrandmareader December 2, 2018

Strange and haunting tale of growing up on a kids-only island

This book surprised me since I've seen it on several lists for 8-12 year olds. It is NOT appropriate on so many levels. The ending leaves you dissatisfied... Continue reading
Kid, 10 years old December 15, 2018

Very touching book!

Very emotional. I was on the verge of crying. It is just like a family with a lot of children and the oldest has to take care of them, except for there are more... Continue reading
Teen, 16 years old Written byemedberry June 21, 2018

Orphan island

It was okay... a little hard to get into.

What's the story?

On ORPHAN ISLAND, everyone knows the verse: "Nine on an island, orphans all / Any more, the sky might fall." Nine kids live a simple life on a magical isle that supplies all their needs, keeps them all safe, and puts on a spectacular light show in the sky every morning and evening. And, every now and then, there's a Changing, as a boat arrives bearing a little kid and leaves taking the eldest kid away, never to be seen again. When her best friend, Deen, leaves, like all the bigger kids before him, Jinny, now the eldest, questions why the kids have always blindly obeyed this rule, without knowing who made it or why, or what's going to happen to them. Soon, the boat will come for her. Then what?

Is it any good?

This coming-of-age fable of kids on an island has a great premise, relatable characters, and heartfelt emotions. Also a habit of raising tantalizing questions only to leave them hanging at book's end. Why do the kids come to the island? Where do they come from? Who sends them? Where do the kids who leave go? Where did the books come from, and who's Abigail? You'll wonder all these things and more, but you'll be none the wiser at story's end. Like The Giving Tree, which comes up early on, Orphan Island provokes strong feelings in readers, whether they love it and think it speaks to their innermost heart, or they can't believe they stuck it out for 288 pages for so little payoff.  

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about Orphan Island and other stories of kids living on their own in some isolated place. Why do you think this is such a popular theme for storytelling? What other examples can you think of?

  • One character in Orphan Island loves the book The Giving Tree, while another thinks it's really stupid. Have you read that book? What do you think? Can you see why someone might feel differently?

  • Have you ever been in a situation where you had to figure out what to do, and you didn't really have enough information to make a decision? What did you do? Was there anyone you could ask for help?

Book details

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