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The Isle of Youth: Stories

3.88  ·  Rating Details ·  1,303 Ratings  ·  167 Reviews
Laura van den Berg's gorgeous new book, The Isle of Youth, explores the lives of women mired in secrecy and deception. From a newlywed caught in an inscrutable marriage, to private eyes working a baffling case in South Florida, to a teenager who assists her magician mother and steals from the audience, the characters in these bewitching stories are at once vulnerable and d ...more
Paperback, 256 pages
Published November 5th 2013 by FSG Originals
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Nov 29, 2013 Pamela rated it it was amazing
Very fine writing with not an ounce of flab. All of the stories concern women betwtixt and between--married but not sure they should be, or itinerant and struggling to stay fed and housed. Their situations are often unusual or extreme--one protagonist's honeymoon flight crashes, another falls in with a bunch of Parisian acrobats, a third travels to Antarctica for clues about what happened to her dead brother. Each woman veers between violent activity and nearly self-obliterating passivity. In ...more
Laura van den Berg's stories have been praised and recommended by Karen Russell, who herself is thanked by van den Berg in the book's acknowledgments section - and since I'm a fan of KR's writing, I decided to try her writing. I was drawn to this collection because of its intriguing title - what exactly could a story titled The Isle of Youth be about?

After finishing the collection, I can definitely see why these stories would appeal to Karen Russel and those who enjoy her work. All of Laura van
May 21, 2013 Roxane rated it it was amazing
Absolutely flawless.
Diane S ☔
Dec 08, 2013 Diane S ☔ rated it really liked it
These stories all feature a woman or women, trying to understand the world in which they find themselves. How did they end up with the lives they are leading, what did they miss, how did they make the mistake that led them here.

The writing is detached as if it is an observer telling these stories. Surprisingly that worked very well in this collection and lets the reader become an observer themselves. Another thing that impressed me was that these stories were complete in and of themselves, and a
Alexandra Grabbe
Nov 12, 2013 Alexandra Grabbe rated it it was amazing
I savored every turn of phrase and unusual twist of plot in this amazing collection of short stories. It has already garnered incredible reviews, but let me simply tell you what I enjoyed the most. There's a continuity from story to story. You sympathize with the protagonists, although most of them are young women who steal or lie or do something wicked. And, the book is really well written. The stories stay with you after you put the book down. I run a B&B on Cape Cod. My guests enjoy short ...more
I'm significantly less impressed with this than Dave Eggers, Karen Russell and Ann Patchett are. I mean, Eggers invoked the name of my lost twin Lorrie Moore on the jacket for chrissakes! Did you just spray your coffee/tea/mimosa all over your computer screen? It's libel! Blasphemous! Has the man even read "You're Ugly, Too"? Between this comment and the whole plagiarism accusation (even if he didn't plagiarize, he somewhat proudly admitted he did no research for The Circle, so yay ignorance?), ...more
Vincent Scarpa
Jun 21, 2013 Vincent Scarpa rated it it was amazing
These stories are timeless and they are relentless. They are brilliant, deeply-felt, big-hearted, and constructed with sympathy, grace, and purpose. The architecture of them, the mere structure, should be studied. The collection as a whole reminded me of one of my favorite Chan Marshall quotes, where she says, "Everybody's gotta get out of somewhere." This can be said of nearly all the characters in these stories-- they seek escape. They seek disappearance, reappearance, remodeling, renovation. ...more
Dec 03, 2013 Lauren rated it really liked it
On the surface, the stories in "The Isle of Youth" are unremarkable: there are no gimmicks, no odd settings or supernatural elements. But every story stands alone, to be examined, and marveled over. I thought about each one long after I finished the collection and I credit van den Berg's exquisite writing. All of her characters have such a distinct voice and I felt as though I was inhabiting their world for just a little while. I would compare her to Alice Munro, both in talent and the potential ...more
Apr 03, 2014 Kim rated it really liked it
An engaging collection of short stories all having to do with women who are kind of adrift in life. There is also a running theme of masks/false faces (literal and figurative). I thought the author did an excellent job creating very real characters in a relatively brief amount of words. I definitely felt engrossed in all of the stories, and enjoyed the way that none of them really ended in a neat or tidy way.
Robert Vaughan
Jan 17, 2016 Robert Vaughan rated it it was amazing
Brilliant and speechless for a few days when I completed this collection all in one sitting. W-O-W!!!
Vivek Tejuja
Dec 16, 2013 Vivek Tejuja rated it it was amazing
I have always admitted to the fact that for me, short stories are a little more important than the novel. I am aware that there are literary greats who at one point mastered the form so well, that everything written by anyone after only got compared and perhaps looked pale when done so. There are also times an author comes along and literally makes you wonder about the most amazing genius he or she possesses when penning a short story and perhaps for me after Munro, there is now Laura van den ...more
Mar 25, 2014 Sheryl rated it it was amazing
The women in The Isle of Youth have experienced abandonment in its different guises, but each character and story remains distinct. They long to connect with their loved ones, but everyone seems to be leaving them and asking them to move on as well. We either get the sense that they are trying to escape their loneliness while struggling to move on, or they have resigned themselves to their fate, not wanting to do more. When an opportunity shows, they become impulsive and act upon it without much ...more
Mar 08, 2015 Danika rated it really liked it
Lovely, haunting stories. The author reminds me of Karen Russell (Southern, young, writing about quirky characters finding their way). Well worth seeking out. Here's the official summary, which is pretty much spot on.

"Laura van den Berg’s gorgeous new book, The Isle of Youth, explores the lives of women mired in secrecy and deception. From a newlywed caught in an inscrutable marriage, to private eyes working a baffling case in South Florida, to a teenager who assists her magician mother and stea
Nov 19, 2013 Alison rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
Best story collection I've read since How to Breathe Underwater or Both Ways is the Only Way I Want It. Van den Berg's stories are beautifully written, perfectly structured, and it's only the very best story writers who can make you care deeply about characters in just a short number of pages. The best short stories feel like magic--something you can't really explain or break down--and these fit the bill. Took my breath away, especially "Antarctica" and "The Isle of Youth."
John Pappas
Dec 28, 2013 John Pappas rated it it was amazing
The female protagonists of these stories resemble in purpose characters in a Pynchon novel- struggling to understand the world made from the intersection of their own past choices, and the indefatigable pressures of family, loss and love. Each story becomes a metaphor; as each woman searches for a lost loved one, a key to understanding a past relationship, or the meaning of a current one, they struggle to define themselves in the world, pushing out from, or remaining in, marginalized spaces in ...more
Brianne Sperber
Highly recommended for fans of short stories and strong female characters. Laura van den Berg's women are dark and deeply moving. Fans of Blueprints for Building Better Girls or How To Breathe Underwater will enjoy this - especially if they like feeling a little unnerved.

These stories rarely feel like they have a conclusion and many end on a question - but they are nevertheless complete and immensely satisfying.

A must for fall fiction.
Emily Bowles
Mar 06, 2015 Emily Bowles rated it really liked it
Somehow Laura van den Berg managed to link together random details that I thought were MY story (e.g., Hollywood, Florida and Appleton, Wisconsin both figure into this collection). She inhabits a lot of the same space that Karen Russell does, but I like van den Berg's balance of normal/fantastic/crazy a lot more.
Eric Sasson
Mar 06, 2014 Eric Sasson rated it really liked it
The thing I love about Laura Van Den Berg's stories is how cinematic they are, how thrilling. She writes the kind of gripping tales that are not usually associated with "literary" fiction. The plots and characters are always exciting and mysterious. She's not much for experimenting with form, but that doesn't matter when you're delivering such juicy stories.
Susan Merrell
Jul 07, 2014 Susan Merrell rated it it was amazing
Really surprising and original voice. The stories are conventionally made, in the best way, and the perspective from which each tale is told is unique and new. Highly recommend for anyone who is writing traditional short stories.
Jessica Lamothe
Feb 27, 2014 Jessica Lamothe rated it liked it
This was a hard one to write as I thought the stories were very well written, but I think I am just not a fan of short stories! Every time I was just getting into it, the story was over. I wanted each one to be the start of a novel. They were also a bit depressing - very damaged characters.
Emma-Kate Schaake
Nov 08, 2016 Emma-Kate Schaake rated it it was amazing
Shelves: short-stories, 2016
I especially loved...

"I looked for you, I called your name:" a woman who doesn't love or understand her husband on their honeymoon.
"Antarctica:" when her brother dies, a woman is tasked with collecting the body and she relives the secrets of his wife's disappearance.
"The Greatest Escape" a seventeen year old magician in performance with her mom who hides the secrets of her father and her past.

All the stories deal with women coming to terms with the reality of their lives and the balance of wh
Callum McAllister
I thoroughly enjoyed most of these stories. Although there were ones I didn't rate too highly, or that I felt were a bit bland, they contributed to the collection as a whole by expanding on the same themes of abandonment and vulnerability.

Something I did quite like (although I don't know whether it was deliberate) was that each narrator felt like the same character - and this helps create the sense that none of them has a very solid sense of their own self.
Nov 17, 2016 Rando rated it it was amazing
Is it normal to feel like you're a depressed middle aged woman with a crazy sister after reading this?

I'm infinitely sad I've finished the stories, I feel like the voice of van den Berg has burrowed into my brain and swallowed my psyche. Yes, anytime I have a thought, my internal voice sounds like the protagonists in the story.

Make it stahp.
Natalie Serber
Dec 10, 2013 Natalie Serber rated it it was amazing
The enigmatic women in Laura van den Berg’s strange and lovely new story collection, “The Isle of Youth,” yearn for secure, uncomplicated lives. Luckily for us, instead of clarity and predictability they end up with secrets and doubts. These characters — magician’s assistants, gumshoes, gangsters, twin sisters, abandoned wives and light-fingered daughters — all hope to understand the mysterious world, but they find it hard enough just to understand themselves.

The book (van den Berg’s second, aft
Feb 18, 2015 John rated it it was amazing
Memorable Crime Fiction Tales as Superb Literary Art

Having heard Laura van den Berg read from her debut novel “Find Me” last week at Brooklyn, NY’s celebrated Franklin Park Reading Series, I wasn’t sure what to expect when I began reading her second short story collection, “The Isle of Youth” in earnest, but it is a superior showcase of her literary talent than her debut novel; here she transforms crime fiction into superb literary art, writing stories that are fundamentally about relationships
Mar 14, 2014 Katherine rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction
“Once I saw an X-ray of a heart and I was alarmed by its smallness, its translucence. A thing we ask entirely too much of” (19).
“I remembered thinking that they weren’t their real selves anymore, that the self had been forsaken in order to be part of something larger, a lesson I’d tried to teach myself but never really learned” (24).
“Opa-locka came from the Indian name Opatishawokalocka, which meant ‘the high land north of the little river on which there is a camping place’” (35).
“...not giving
Gila Gila
Jul 16, 2016 Gila Gila rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2016
When Laura van den Berg is good, she's very very good, and when she is bad she is florid.

The first three of these stories are striking and memorable: "I Looked For You, I Called Your Name" is a riveting account of a honeymoon in hell between newly marrieds who seem to barely know each other; and "Opa-Locka", the award winning story of a pair of deeply wounded sister detectives as they spiral downward, was absolutely worth my re-read. But it was "Lessons" that did me in. It's like a Sally Mann ph
Aman Mittal
Mar 13, 2015 Aman Mittal rated it really liked it
Laura van den Berg’s THE ISLE OF YOUTH is a collection of seven engaging short stories exploring the lives of women mired in secrecy and deception. Each tale is spun with urgency, and the reader grows attached to the marginalized young women in these stories. I have already confessed a few times that I do not read much short stories collection, but reading this one has affected my view regarding the short stories.

Brilliantly written, dark, unsettling stories with original voice, every narrator/p
Feb 20, 2014 Kawai rated it it was amazing
Laura van den Berg has been lurking in the shadows of the limelight since her debut collection, "What the World Will Look Like When All the Water Leaves Us", first broke out under the Dzanc Books imprint. She's finally getting the recognition she deserves, and the collection associated with that increased attention--"Isle of Youth"--is a fine collection indeed.

"Isle of Youth" is like finding those already-rare albums I stumbled upon in the 1990's that seem an endangered species these days: Every
"Deception is necessary. In marriage, in life. Otherwise the world will just sandblast us away. You have to keep something for yourself."
-The Isle of Youth, Laura Van Der Berg

When I was perusing one of Buzzfeed's many awesome reading lists, I came across Laura Van Der Berg's The Isle of Youth. In recent years, I have become more of a fan of short story collections, especially if they are done well I'm glad The Isle of Youth didn't disappoint.

The Isle of Youth is a collection of 7 stories, all wi
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Book Keeping: The Isle of Youth by Laura van den Berg 1 10 Jan 30, 2014 10:56AM  
  • A Guide to Being Born: Stories
  • Safe as Houses
  • Battleborn
  • Bobcat and Other Stories
  • Spectacle: Stories
  • Music for Wartime: Stories
  • Doll Palace
  • Gutshot
  • Every Kiss a War
  • Thunderstruck & Other Stories
  • Don't Kiss Me: Stories
  • I Want to Show You More
  • Starting Over: Stories
  • Sweet Talk
  • The Beautiful Indifference: Stories
  • Big World
  • American Innovations: Stories
  • Birds of a Lesser Paradise: Stories
Laura van den Berg's debut story collection, What the World Will Look Like When All the Water Leaves Us, was a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers selection, a finalist for ForeWord Magazine's Book of the Year award, longlisted for The Story Prize, and shortlisted for the Frank O'Connor International Award. Her second collection of stories, The Isle of Youth, is forthcoming from Farrar, ...more
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“I like having a job where I get to wear a mask all day.” 4 likes
“Over time, we became less sure we were something the other wanted to hold on to.” 3 likes
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