Mike's Reviews > Small Island

Small Island by Andrea Levy
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M 50x66
's review
May 11, 2011

Genre: Young Adult
Awards: Whitbread Book of the Year
Rating: 5/5
The book opens with a young English girl named Queenie. The prologue sets to portray her as sympathetic yet prejudiced towards blacks. Then the book introduces Hortense Joseph a young Afro-Jamaican girl who grows up with her cousin Michael’s family. When Hortense matures she goes to school to become a teacher. She desperately longs to move to London. She has wonderful visions of an idealistic London where she can escape prejudice and ignorance. Her longing for Britain is cut short when she receives news that her beloved cousin Michael was missing in action during the war. She is nearly consumed by her grief.
Upon seeing a man resembling Michael on the Island she embraces the man. Eventually Hortense and the man named Gilbert agree to marry and move to London. Gilbert leaves for London where he saves money for Hortense’s passage. While in London Gilbert rents a room from the adult Queenie. Queenie is alone because her husband Bernard is of fighting in the war and has not returned. Queenie is tolerant of blacks and is criticized by her neighbors for letting spooks come in and “ruin the neighborhood”. She longs for companionship in her husband’s absence.

Evaluation: Overall I thought the book was powerful. Although I am most certainly not an expert on the “black-experience” I thought this book was moving. The attention to detail made this book special. Also the author’s ability to write from the perspectives of such different characters was truly amazing. The inner dialogue of the various characters kept what easily could have been a mundane synopsis of daily life very interesting. Surprisingly, there were few dull moments. Although on could say that Andrea Levy jumped around from character to character too quickly, I found it to be refreshing. The multiple timelines keeps the reader in their toes.

Description of ending: Closed: All the character’s issues are resolved. The characters have revealed their secrets to one another and thus they all had closure.
The book transitioned between characters very rapidly, however I did not find this too distracting. By switching through the characters the reader becomes all knowing which is important to the plot development.
This book is important because it tries to capture the black-experience without being yet another depressing description of a downtrodden hopeless people.
Pages I would read aloud:
Page 101- the description of the squalid conditions and mice.
Page 430- the fight about what to do with Queeni’s illegitimate colored child.

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