Jessika Fleck is a writer, voracious coffee drinker, and knitter—she sincerely hopes to one day discover a way to do all three at once. Until then, she continues failing to resurrect house plants, training to be an archivist, and slowly evolving into a genuine 'cat lady'. Her YA fantasy, BEWARE THE NIGHT (Macmillan), received a coveted starred review from School Library Journal. Her most recent project, MURDER AT THE OLD WILLOW BOARDING SCHOOL (A Choose Your Own Adventure book) releases October 3rd, 2023! More at www.jessikafleck.com
yikes. this was a rough read, and i'm baffled by all the positive reviews on here.
i was super interested in the premise: a bullied teen is running through a carnival corn maze and suddenly finds herself on a remote jungle island. the island is populated with warring clans of kids from different decades, all of whom are trapped on the island, never aging or growing up. cool mystery, right?
unfortunately, the only things i can praise about this novel are that it has an intriguing premise, and that it has short, easy chapters. considering it's such a creative concept, the cliché-filled execution is so disappointing!
here are just a few of the issues i had:
‣ our protagonist, olive, is ridiculously immature for an older teen. her immaturity doesn't match the brutal descriptions of violence throughout the book. and her narrative voice is cringy as hell, which is especially painful because the told-not-shown writing remains stuck within her rambly internal monologues for most of the book. the characterization is very weak, for olive herself and all of the supporting characters, many of whom feel like flat caricatures.
‣ olive's big struggle prior to showing up on the island is that she's a victim of bullying. i appreciate the anti-bullying message, but it's written in a completely unbelievable way. the only reason the bullies target her is because of her embarrassing name?? but they go so far as to physically hold her down and put a used tampon on her / shave part of her hair? what?? the bullies are one-dimensional, it's far too dramatic and contrived.
‣ as i mentioned, olive's narrative voice is rambly as hell, but there are also tons of info dumps and boring paragraphs of exposition. the interesting things are glossed over, and instead there are pages and pages of unnecessary filler dialogue. olive says over and over again how beautiful the island is, but i never felt immersed in the setting. it's just... not well-written.
‣ there is forbidden instalove with a dark brooding older teen who has an eyepatch!! oh god, i would not have read this book if i knew about the weak romance element. so many gratuitous descriptions of his minty breath and sweat beading down his back. eww. the romance is almost as contrived as the bullying, and seems to be based on lust more than love. at one point the eyepatch boy confides to olive about his suicide attempt, and she starts an internal monologue about how she doesn't know how to respond because she hasn't dated much and "boys just aren't my forte." what the fuck? this book does not know how to handle the serious topics it raises.
‣ all of the above points are frustrating, but this final thing is serious and harmful. on an island full of kids, the only person of color is a small brown girl named "bug." her backstory is that she's an orphan who lived on another tropical island far in the past. she didn't know how to speak english when she arrived on the island, but she has legendary survival skills that she bestows on the other kids in her clan. yes, the one brown kid is the exoticized one who is at home in the jungle and doesn't want to return to her old life. she's a cute character, but giving this background to the only character of color is downright racist.
i really wanted to enjoy the castaways and its beachy lord of the flies / peter pan vibes, but it's poorly written and extremely disappointing. olive does show growth by the end of the book, and there's a nice found-family theme, but those can't redeem the fact that her character and the story itself are so unbelievable and unlikable.
Thank you to NetGalley and Entangled Publishing for providing me with a copy of this book in return for an honest (and belated) review.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Olive Maxi Gagmuehler lives everyday in fear of being tortured by a trio of mean girls at her school causing Olive to suffer from anxiety attacks. Olive in a way blames her parents for her name that is just asking to be made fun of in her opinion. But as much as Olive wants to avoid the torture of the trio she loves her little brother and promises to take him to the Castaway Carnival that is visiting town.
The Castaway Carnival however comes with it's own stories that would put fear into anyone. Over the years there have been kids that have gone into the corn maze only to never be seen again with no clue of where they had gone. Olive had vowed to go nowhere near the maze but when her trio of tormentors again attack Olive finds herself running for safety into the maze only to find herself far from home on a strange island with other kids that tell the same story of running away from something only to now find themselves trapped.
The Castaways by Jessika Fleck has been described as a young adult fantasy that is a bit of a mix of 'Mean Girls' meets 'Lord of the Flies.' Now when starting out this read it was clearly obvious how it was compared to Mean Girls, the trio that are bullying Olive in the story are completely despicable and even tested my gag reflex with some of their torture. I felt so sorry for poor Olive having to live with this daily and couldn't help but wonder just where the adults or anyone for that matter were that could help her.
Now as far as Lord of the Flies I haven't read the book myself but I do know enough about it that I can also see the comparison there too. In my mind though being a huge Peter Pan fan and having read tons of retellings there I kept thinking of the island as a sort of Neverland. The kids that have traveled there never age and have split into two groups that are at war with one another. Olive finds herself with the group of good kids and determined to help them win the war and find a way home.
During the story I got to see Olive find herself and grow from the bullied scared girl that she had been before arriving on the island. The author also did a wonderful job of making the entire group of characters on the island come to life and make you care about what happens to each of them unlike some stories that the side characters never really stand out.
In the end this was one young adult fantasy that was fast paced, which I enjoy, and full of great characters and an action packed, intriguing plot.
I received an advance copy from the publisher via NetGalley.
*Received an advance reader copy in exchange for a fair review*
I had a bit of fun reading this. I don't generally read a ton of YA fiction, but this was permissible for the most part. The Castaways is sort of a cross between Lord of the Flies, The Hunger Games, The Maze Runner, with even elements of Carrie.
The idea was kind of neat and exciting; children, from different decades, end up on 'The Island.' Each of them was running away from something, usually fear of another person, which has caused them to run for safety. And in the blink of an eye, they end up in "safety" on The Island, only to realise it has all the very real dangers of the real world. There is a struggle to survive, there are bullies, and there is a war going on between two different groups of children. The metaphor here is clear - you cannot run away from your problems, they'll follow you. This is a good lesson, especially if teens and younger readers pick up this book.
I noticed a lot of cliches in there, though, that perhaps ruined a bit of the magic for me. Olive (main character), is a bullied girl who is frightened even to go to school every day. I don't take issue with that, I actually found that incredibly profound, because I could relate to it. The bullying is where we see elements of Carrie-esque things happen. But the magic-ruining cliche for me was that, yes, Olive falls for a boy that she can't/shouldn't fall in love with (insert finger down throat). Perhaps I'm being naive; I'm sure adolescent readers enjoy seeing that, especially if you're a young girl. But for me I find the idea tiring. For once, I'd enjoy seeing a young female heroine not fall in love with a guy because it's an obligation of the genre. Or perhaps, give us a twist - she falls in love with a...girl! However, out of the cliches, I picked up a message. The message is that, more than anything, love wins. Eventually you need to tap into self-love and love with those around you if you want to make it out of a crummy situation.
I enjoyed the characters. They were believable enough for me, and experience the real heartbreak and pain children feel. And Jessika Fleck is a good writer; she writes simply and I think it is well tailored to the audience.
On the whole, I was entertained. I found some points rushed, others dragged out. But the idea was cool and the execution was good enough. Not sure if this is a planned series (the ending makes me think it might not be?) but I think this could be better if the novel was shortened, and spread out into two or three shorter novels as a series.
The Castaways!!! First things first: I received this book through NetGalley.
Summary: The Castaway Carnival: fun, mysterious, dangerous. Renowned for its infamous corn maze… and the kids who go missing in it. When Olive runs into the maze, she wakes up on an isolated and undetectable island where a decades-long war between two factions of rival teens is in full swing. Trapped, Olive must slowly attempt to win each of her new comrades’ hearts as Will—their mysterious, stoically quiet, and handsome leader—steals hers. Olive is only sure about one thing: her troop consists of the good guys, and she’ll do whatever it takes to help them win the war and get back home.
Holy mother of everything, I loved this book so much. I didn't expect that at all. There will probably be some vage spoilers cause I need to write about this book and some things that happened.
The story is seriously amazing and really creative. The writing is so great and really transported me in the middle of this world.
I loved Olive, the main character, right from the start. She got bullied REALLY bad. Like, the trio of girls that bullied her, took things to an insane level. Later on the island we get many more characters. Characters that I loved from the first moment they showed up, Bug, Tilly (I didn't pick up the book for a day after THE THING happened) and Charlie. The rest of them were all just there and I didn't care that much.
I also didn't care much about Will and Olive as a couple. Cause I cared much more about the family dynamics. Before the island I loved the relationship between Olive and her little brother Lucky. On the island I loved Olive and Bug and Charlie, cause it reminded me so much of her moments with her brother. Also the whole family feel of the group, that just found there way on the island and who had to figure out how to life there.
I loved the character growth in the story, cause that was what I really cared about in the book. They all had their history, they all went through something terrible. They all grew so much on the island. I just. I'm getting the feels just talking about it. Especially Olive, cause we got the story from her point of view, so we could really see her growth. (The thing she did at the end of the book, back in school. I just. I felt like a proud mama)
To make things really short, I loved the book and I highly recommend it.
Oooooooooooo I loved this. All of it. Everything. It was so good!
The writing was so easy to read that I flew through this hardly putting it down long enough to pee. The characters, the setting, the conflict, the development, the romance, the cover - EVERYTHING was done so well. It's going straight on my favorites list.
Notes - *I've added this to my abuse shelf because it contains intense bullying at the start *No sex of any kind, just kissing
Really beautiful writing amid a cinematic story with perfect pacing. This book was a YA version of Lost, in all the best ways- a mysterious island with a "brain" of its own, characters with compelling backstories, infighting among different factions of those who landed there under mysterious circumstances- yep, I loved it!!
Wow! An imaginative, thrilling book. The bullying in the beginning is soul-searing; the violence on the island shocking and riveting. Olive is transformed through friendship and love and stands up for herself and others when it matters most. Well done!
What a great read! Amazing imagery and character descriptions, who, by the way, are impossible to not fall in love with. I loved every character and there was such much emotion and background behind each and every one. Along with such a unique plot, this book was impossible to put down.
A gripping story that held me until the final page! The concept is so unique and wonderful, and the writing is beautiful. When Olive runs from a horrible bullying incident, she sprints through a cornfield and transports to "The Island," where she discovers other kids from different times who are also trapped there with her. What unfolds feels very much like the LORD OF THE FLIES. Olive is such a great main character. She starts out bullied and timid, but becomes strong by the end. I loved the romance between Olive and Will. They were just so sweet! All the characters were distinctive and felt real, but Tilly and Bug were amazing. Fleck really knows how to write a compelling story, full of mystery and heart!
I was reading it and stopped when I was at 30ish% of the book onlh to find out when I could go back to it that I didn't want to. In all that time I just hadn't warmed up to any character, and most of those on the island were similar between them. I had enjoyed the book when they were on the institute, but even for me there were lots of things that didn't made sense (and I tend to go with the book and not question things): so kids keep disappearing on the corn maze but they don't close... a peter panish island? really? Coconut bombs? A war on the island going on for centuries and only one person dies? until our main character arrives and kills another and feels regret but she had to do it to save a little one and herself but I buy it all the same I buy the romance? The narrative was nice, but the book didn't make sense, although you can see is about bullying and abuse and power over others.
Oh my gosh, this book. I'm not sure what I expected, but it chewed up all my feelings and was so, so, so good! I adored the characters -- and there are a lot of them, but they're so distinct and real, that I never found myself confused about who was who. The pacing is perfect, and the romance between Olive and Will is probably my favorite part of the book. I also really loved the theme of learning to love and accept yourself. A fantastic, exciting, romantic read -- and get your tissues for the last few chapters!
What a fun and thrilling read. Full of vivid island imagery and characters who will grab your heart, and a knockout concept, make this an absorbing read. Kids tested to their limits and how they resolve conflicts and how cause and effect created their present situation. They also learn about the gift of sacrifice. Good stuff. I was sure the characters were fully conscious. Jessika’s deft writing is lovely and at times poetic. I look forward to reading the author’s next work!
The Castaways by Jessika Fleck caught me by surprise. The blurb sounds amazing and I was ready to follow Olive Gagmuehler anywhere on her adventure. I thought I was going to like it, but then in chapter three we meet her tormentors... they were really cruel (and I'm really softhearted) so I thought that I might be adding this to my DNF pile. Luckily/unluckily she escapes her bullies via corn maze and ends up on the island.
This book should have been tagged as a Peter Pan retelling, because it seriously felt like Neverland. Once Olive arrived on the island, I fell in love with it and couldn't put it down. It is one of those books where I was still reading at 3AM and only put it down because my husband was giving me the side-eye (understandable since he had to be up in 2 hours). This is a true adventure with well thought out characters. I enjoyed them all and would love a sequel/prequel/alterative POV... anything. I couldn't believe this was Jessika Fleck's first book, and I can't wait to read what she comes up with next.
I received an advance reader copy of this book that I have chosen to review.
When I first started reading The Castaways, I wasn't sure what to expect. A few hours later, I was turning the last page. The Castaways is an absolute gem of a book and I loved it.
The story does begin with a very brutal, slightly difficult to read bullying scene. We see Olive, the main character, both at home with her family and at school with her tormentors. The juxtaposition really drives home how the bullying has affected every aspect of her life. My heart immediately went out to Olive from page one. After an incident involving hair clippers and bullies, Olive runs into the maze at the Castaway Carnival and finds herself on a deserted island, far from the world she knew.
On the island, Olive meets others who have been stranded there throughout the decades. I don't want to spoil any major plot points but I really enjoyed the plot overall (although it was a lot darker than I'd originally expected). The pacing is excellent and I was constantly engaged.
A good portion of why I loved this book was the secondary characters (okay, mostly just the lions). They were all written very well and I enjoyed the dynamics between them. The author did a wonderful job of showing us the relationships between the characters rather than telling us. Watching the lions, one of the two tribes on the island, adjust to having Olive dumped on them was actually rather fun. The Lions truly felt like a family, with all the bickering, understanding, and love.
Sometimes I would think that a longer time period had passed than actually had since some developed occurred quickly. Then I remembered my personal experiences at sleep-away camp (a poor substitute but the closest I've ever been to Olive's situation). I thought of how much we all changed and grew, and then the timeframe didn't seem quite so difficult to believe.
Now that I've establish that I enjoyed the writing, the plot, and the secondary characters, it's time to talk about my favorite part of the story - Olive Maxi Gagmuehler (what a name!). What I really liked about her is that she wasn't a special snowflake. Had she not encountered the other individuals on the island, she probably would have perished. She gets panic attacks and makes some pretty serious mistakes. Olive is at the island because she was running away. Olive is also smart, empathetic, and brave. Some of the decisions she makes are incredibly difficult and adult ones to make. Full disclosure- I absolutely cried when reading about one of them. As for the romance, all I will say is that I loved how it developed and the choices that Olive made.
The Castaways was a wonderful read and I can't wait to add it to my collection. I would recommend this book to anyone wanting to read a good young adult novel or anyone interested in reading a wonderful book about finding yourself.
*Warning - this book does contain some graphic descriptions of bullying.
Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review
Loved this! I really liked the concept and the lessons that the Castaways had to learn about themselves through their journeys. The writing was easy to read and told a really great story. The characters were all great and complex as well and there was great character growth throughout the story. There were a few times where things seemed to come out of nowhere and I was a little confused as to how that solution was reached or what hints I had missed. I also felt there wasn't really any closure between Olive and The Trio - I really wanted that. But overall a great read!
*I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.
Jessika Fleck created an addicting story that makes you dive full in and not come up for air until you’re done reading the last page. Whether you’re young or young at heart there is something in the story or characters that everyone can find themselves investing in, can discover about themselves.
Since bullying is such a hot button issue in American society right now it’s no surprise Fleck would use this social crime as background for part of her story and as a setting for her character development. After all, seeing a victim progress from a browbeaten kid to a survivor and self-possessed leader is something to behold. I’ve heard it described as something like a combo of Mean Girls and Lord of the Flies and I can see where people would perceive the comparison whereas I’m siding a little more with it being something of a YA version of LOST. There’s plenty of the same adventure and survival instinct that shows up within the characters.
Unlike the reality based Lord of the Flies, this is definitely a Fantasy novel. In LOTF they arrived at the island by a downed plane, here Olive ends up on the island by running into a corn maze as she is trying to escape being abused yet again at the hand of her uncontrollable peers. The detail Fleck puts into building her island world with its two groups of warring kids is incredible and makes you feel like you’re there fighting for your side to win.
I liked how Fleck’s used her various B-list characters to describe and showcase various levels of Olive’s personality; depending on who she was interacting with brought out a different part of her identity much the way we all do. Her characters overall were so realistic, complex and multi-dimensional she was able to display a wide spectrum of human interaction.
Her writing style lend itself to a great pace to keep you interested and she adds a bit of romance between Olive and Will. There’s a little bit of everything to cover a wide continuum of themes; one of which, learning to be okay with yourself regardless of others opinion, is one of the better ones.
The Castaways is a harrowing tale of adventure, self-discovery and romance in a mix of Lord of the Flies, Hunger Games, and The Maze Runner.
Olive Gagmuehler is running from bullies at the Castaway Carnival when she falls through some window and finds herself in tropical paradise. Except for the escalating war between factions of teens. And the coconut bombs. And startlingly dangerous cliffs. The teens are all from different eras, different countries, but all were running from something when they found themselves slipping onto the island where they must focus on survival. In this war zone, Olive struggles to control her fears, making friends with the Lions, and maybe falling in love.
The novel has an interesting premise and is a quick, well-written read. The dynamics between characters, particularly the secondary characters, where my favorite aspects of the novel, and I enjoyed how creative the story premise is. The characters are a little clichéd, and the character development did not feel as deep as I would have expected or wanted given the rather traumatic and emotional rollercoaster the characters were going through. But overall, it was an intriguing read and I was entertained by the romance despite it being a little cheesy.
Despite being classified as YA, please note that there are a few fairly descriptive scenes of cruel, traumatic violence and bullying, even from the very beginning that even had me gagging a little. So while I do recommend this to readers interested in an adventure novel about teens with a bit of a Survivor twist, there are some scenes not suitable for all younger readers.
Thanks to the publisher for an ARC in exchange for a fair review!
Jessika Fleck's debut novel, "The Castaways," is a fast-paced, wholly original fantasy that reminded me of a YA "Lost." And I say that as a "Lost" super-fan who never missed an episode! Like the intriguing TV series, "The Castaways" follows two tribes stuck on a mysterious island, unsure how they got there and how (or if) they can ever return home. Our heroine, Olive Maxi Gagmuelher, is fleeing a trio of "Mean Girls"-style bullies when she somehow transports from a carnival corn maze to the island, where she meets a band of fellow outsiders, The Lions, including romantic interest and leader Will, and charming children Charlie and Bug. The Lions have been at war with The Panthers for some time, and when Olive joins The Lions, she's put in the middle of their deadly conflict. "The Castaways" has a message about facing your internal demons that will resonate with teen readers, and the plot will keep fantasy/action fans hooked. Fleck's Olive has a sassy, intelligent voice, and "The Castaways" mixes several elements - a little bit "Lord of the Flies," a little bit "Peter Pan," a "Carrie" moment - to create a unique read!
Once I started it, this book was hard to put down. Olive, in an effort to escape bullies, finds herself in a maze that takes her to a deserted island of other “castaway” teens. There’s rival groups and amazing characters (who are as interesting as Olive). The romance between Olive and Will, the leader of one group, is well developed and believable. I really enjoyed reading this book! There is definitely a Lord of the Flies element, and elements of Lost, but it really is its own thing. The writing is excellent and the pacing kept me turning the pages without frowning in confusion. I’m looking forward to reading more from this author!
This is such a feel-good story--with a happy ending (whew!), and to me, much better than Lord of the Flies which this book has been compared to. While LotF was disturbing, this was hopeful. The characters and their friendships were so easy to fall in love with. (Bug reminded me of Rue! <3) The whole reason for them being on the island, how they resolve their issues, and the satisfying resolution to everyone's stories seriously put a smile on my face when the book ended. I only wish we had an epilogue for every character! (Hint...hint...Jessika!)
Received an advance reader copy in exchange for a fair review
Wow! I can't even express how epic this book was. I couldn't put it down and read it from cover to cover in 24 hours. The Castaways pulls you in from the moment you open the cover when you realize that the main character, Olive is being bullied at school. Through the rest of the book, all I could think about was how Olive was going to get off the island alive and would William go with her. At the end, all I wanted to do was scream at William "Go with here!." But, alas, he couldn't. At the end, I just wanted to cry, but the author made everything better. I'm not going to give it away, but it has a happy ending. Five stars for Jessika Fleck!
I absolutely loved this book. I was sucked into the story and felt each high and low of the characters. It's a book that everyone can identify with, especially young adults who are finding their own sense of worth. I was fortunate enough to receive and early copy, and I can't wait to buy a copy for my friends!
This story has such a fantastic premise: run from the bully...and get sucked onto a mysterious island with no means of getting home again. Oh and there's a war and bombs and cute boys. I really enjoyed this book. It's a standalone and the resolution is really clever. It's a little big Lord of the Flies and a little bit Peter Pan--but really a unique story all its own!
Olive has been the victim of bullying for a years now and it's all because of her name, Olive Maxi Gagmuehler. She's been tormented by the same three girls, year after year. When her little brother talks her into taking him to the Castaway Carnival she reluctantly agrees but refuses to take him into the corn maze. There's something up with the maze because kids tend to go missing when they go in there and there's never any trace as to what happened to them. However, when Olive's tormentors show up, she turns tail and runs into the maze in the hopes of losing her attackers. One minute she's running away, climbing under under corn stalks, and the next she's on an island. An island that is inhabited by kids who've gone through a portal just like Olive did. Kids who were running away from something. While you'd think this place would be a reprieve for them, it's not. There's a war brewing between the two groups of kids and that fight gets deadlier every day.
One thing that I thought was interesting about this story, aside from the island itself, is the story behind it. All these kids came from different decades in time and different countries, but there's one thing they all had in common, they were running away from something. Also, the kids do not age a day while they are on the island. So while some of them should be like 60 years old, they are still stuck in their teen years.
One thing I was a little disappointed in was the romance. I just didn't fully get it. It just felt like it was thrown in there because romance is expected in YA. Why couldn't Olive have grown on the island without "falling in love" with the main guy. I thought the story was great without the included romance. It would have been nice if this rag-tag team of kids banned together and became a family without there being any romantic angles.
The Castaways is a story about overcoming your fears. Each of the characters in this book had something they were running from. I liked the way the teens banned together and took care of each other, especially when it came to the younger kids who came over onto the island. While I felt like the romance was unnecessary, I still enjoyed this story. I loved the message that it told.
Favorite quote... "This is no leisurely afternoon. There's a cave-tree full of kids who are probably freaking out, bombs raining down on us without warning, and the bullies want me as a consolation prize, or more, a sacrificial symbol."
Thank you to Entangled Teen and Netgalley for a copy of this eARC in exchange for a fair review.
Olive's life is pretty miserable mostly due to her name. Which has led her to be tormented for six years by the trio. Olive makes plans to try and get back at them by meeting her friend at the Castaway Carnival. However, when her friend is late she is chased into the maze by one of the trio. As she is running away she finds a tunnel and hurries through it.
But she isn't in the maze when she comes out the other side. She is on an island. Will and Jude find Olive before too long. They explain that they have been there for years. They are also at war with the other faction. The Panthers, led by Duke.
Olive has no clue what is going on and how they can get home. As she makes friends and tries to stay alive she will have to figure out it for them all.
I don't know what I expected when I started reading this, but it was sort of light-hearted take on some heavy subjects. Olive was bullied, Tilly was running from bombs in war-torn London, Will is a well I can't quite reveal that. Spoiler, but in essence, everyone that ended up on that island was running from something when they went through a window and ended up there.
I want to say so much more on the subject but ahh spoilers suffice to say that my absolute favorite part of the book explains everything, therefore I can't discuss it. But when you read it and you get there you will know what I mean. I devoured this book in one sitting. I couldn't stop reading it was fun, serious and I loved it.
I don't know if I should give this 3 or 4 stars because I wasn't really a fan of the first half of the book. It had some clichés that bored me to death like the typical 3-against-1 bullying/girl-against-girl hate, the omg-this-boy-is-so-hot-and-cute-i-love-him trope and some of the Panthers when we first meet them.
However, I enjoyed the last half of the book! The characters went through some changes and learned to accept who they were, the bond and friendship that the group formed was really sweet and overall the book had a great message! Even if I thought the romance was very cliché and basically insta-love (they've known each other for a few days and barely spoke to each other) but the ending was very sweet!
Yeah, not sure about my rating yet. I'll have to give it some more thought!
*I received an ARC by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion in any way!*
We go out and settle on large boulders in the sun. It beats down on us like a tiny peace of heaven in all this chaos and confusion, orphan stories, and names.
* * * .5 3 . 5 / 5
Confession time: I haven't read The Lord of the Flies, that supposedly is the inspiration behind The Castaways. I tried to once, when I was twelve, and it was incredibly boring so I put it down and went back to reading the Narnia Chronicles. What I can tell you is that The Castaways is firmly a young adult novel, full of action, violence, romance, and female character (which I understand Lord of the Flies doesn't have). It's a fun and quick-paced novel that bumps it up from the average 3 star book, but suffers from an abundance of cliches.
I used to have a smile. A real smile. All teeth. All cheeks. The kind that makes your eyes go squinty and pinches your nose. But I lost it.
Olive Maxi Gagmuehler is badly bullied, beginning with quite a disgusting opening scene of harassment. Olive certainly earns my sympathy and watching her grow and reflect on herself throughout the book was lovely. At the Castaway Carnaval, Olive runs from her tormentors into the corn maze, one surrounded by legend and rumours of missing children, but when she runs out again - well, this ain't Texas anymore, Dorothy. The island is large and inhabited by two small tribes of children - the Lions and the Panthers - who are at war with each other. It sounds a bit cliche and I suppose the idea behind it is, but I was delighted to find out that there isn't actually much time spent "at war", rather it tries to focus on a community of lost young people and their relationships to each other and themselves.
I've learned to slay the physical and mental mind blow before it takes me down its hellish spiral. I've never fallen all the way down. But the threat is always one breath away.
Olive has anxiety, mostly manifesting in severe breathlessness and shaking. Personally, as someone who used to have panic attacks (bad heart palpitations and feeling like I was choking), I think this was quite well done, but obviously everyone experiences anxiety in a different way. As Olive grows throughout the novel, her anxiety becomes less debilitating. She becomes more confident in who she is and I related quite a lot to this - going to university and exposing myself to new people and situations did wonders for my anxiety. Like Olive, it's still there and sometimes surfaces, but is almost entirely manageable. So kudos to the author for this.
As regards the rest of the cast, Olive loves her younger brother Lucky, but unfortunately her parents barely feature in the novel at all. The rest of the main cast consists of the lion tribe, a mix of six kids of different ages. I'm fairly sure some of the kids were non-white, but there isn't a whole lot of descriptions going on. My favourite was Bug, a resourceful seven year old girl who takes a liking to Olive (and Olive's matching underwear set), closely followed by Jude, a solitary grumpy older teen who is mourning the loss of his girlfriend, Ana. Then there's Will, the love interest and head of the Lions, the kid who has been on the island the longest.
"I don't hate you," he mumbles. I barely hear it. But I do. Head down, he speaks to the door. "I hate this fucking island. It takes everything I love, chews it up, and shits it back out."
The cast is, on the whole, alright, though I had trouble keeping a few of the characters distinct in my mind. Where the book suffers is its predicability. The two main plot twists were rather obvious - the first in particular I saw coming from quite a while away. But what was interesting was the way in which Olive dealt with the betrayal. Normally authors write their characters into having meltdowns and screaming anger fits when they have hidden pasts - instead Fleck wrote Olive as being a mature adult who is capable of having a decent adult conversation! That's quite a rare trait in a YA character, so this was a pleasant surprise.
Then there's Will. He's got the crooked nose and jaunty smile and a ~mysterious~ past that Olive falls for straight away. That's actually fine by me - you spend some time in close quarters with some people and you're probably going to develop a crush. It's just that their relationship develops very fast from crush to love territory, in under a month. I also didn't actually like him all that much either, so that was a bit of a shame - the idea of a sixteen year old dating someone who has lived on an island for fifty years, ageing physically or not, seems a bit weird to me. It's a bit Edward Cullen to my mind, though Will is nowhere near as creepy. The ending is also very predictable, absolutely no surprises there.
The Castaways is a fun, fast-paced novel with a handful of good and well-developed characters. The main character, Olive, is particularly strong and I think the anxiety representation is well done. Just don't expect to be surprised by where the plot goes.
My thanks to Netgalley, the publisher, and the author for an ARC of this book.
*I received an advance reader copy in exchange for a fair review*
Olive Maxi Gagmuelher has been running from her name for years. The perfect assortment of tease-worthy names has haunted her all through her school years, making her the target of her classmates vicious teasing.
While fleeing from her tormentors through the corn maze infamous for its' record of child disappearances she suddenly finds herself far away from her Texas home.
She's on The Island. The mysterious island is home to two groups on teenagers and children trapped in time. With no way home Olive finds herself caught between a team rivalry that seems to be getting more and more violent....
While I did like the plot of this book some parts seemed a bit clichéd. The 'Trio' of mean girls who had nothing better to do then bully the 'outsider' were just annoying to me.
I wish there had been a little more action. The build up for the big battle sequence seemed overhyped. There were some slow periods where I wish something would happen already and I wasn't a fan of the insta-love between Olive and Will.
However, I did like discovering the mystery behind The Island and how and why each kid was there. Olive did go through a transformation that changed her for the better and eventually made her a stronger more confident person.
This book was . . . bad. The writing was clunky and disjointed; it felt like reading a story written by a middle school student and it might be impressive for them but as a published novel, it just didn't work for me. Wouldn't recommend.