Throwback Thursday this week is an audiobook aimed at the younger reader, performed excellently by MacLeod Andrews. It was published in January 2016 by Scholastic Audio.
When twelve year old Jonathan Grisby arrives at Slabhenge, hungry, cold and tormented, he faces at least ten weeks in the forbidding and Dickensian-like reform school. Run by The Admiral and his staff, who take pleasure from making life as difficult and uncomfortable as possible for the unfortunates who have been sent there. Slabhenge has had several incarnations, including a facility for the mentally ill, but to the boys it seems more like a prison with it’s many corridors, staircases and stone-walled, dank rooms.
After a bizarre incident the boys are left to fend for themselves, à la Lord of the Flies. They decide not to let anyone know and make the most of their new-found freedom. Calling themselves Scars, after being referred to as scabs by the Admiral, they also rename the island Scar Island. But freedom isn’t all they thought it would be, especially since one of the group decide the boys do need governing after all, and takes the path of undemocratic rule. As relations worsen, and a destructive hurricane heads for the island, the boys’ courage and resilience is tested to the limits.
At first, there was nothing but silence and absolute darkness. Jonathan could hear his own desperate breathing, and the hammering of his heart. A cold draft blew through his cell door and goose bumps popped up on his neck. He wrapped his arms around his body.
Water dripped and dropped and dabbled all around, a crazy constant pattering and pittering. And then, all around the room, he heard a scraping and shuffling sound. He strained his ears and then realized that it was all the other boys, walking back from their cell doors to crawl into their skinny beds. Mixed in was the squinchy squeak of mattress springs as bodies lay down and curled up.
An action packed story with a suitably tense ending, peopled by fully realized characters with a good mix of personalities, relevant and believable emotions and an authentic feel, making it easy to become involved. The setting is incredibly well described, providing vivid images. A nice touch is the distinctive detail of literary references appropriate to the narrative.
We don’t actually find out until close to the end what ‘crime’ caused Jonathan to be banished to the island, only that he’s full of guilt and believes he deserves his fate. The reveal is tragic. Jonathan and Colin are the most sympathetic characters. Unassuming Colin, quiet but deep and with a high sense of morality, helps Jonathan face up to and deal with his past.
Although from the point of view of an adult reader the plot may at times seem improbable, I think it works well for a much larger group than the target age range. The story has it’s dark side but it would be effective for preteens upward and anyone who likes YA fiction. There are several serious subjects included in the narrative, with possible debatable topics for children, and strong messages, not least how power can corrupt and the effects of bullying and peer pressure.
An extremely well written survival story of redemption that ‘shines a light on dark truths to reveal that the strongest prisons of all are the ones we build for ourselves.’
About the Book
Jonathan Grisby is the newest addition to the Slabhenge Reformatory School for Troubled Boys. Shipped out to the remote island facility, Jonathan quickly learns that the school is less concerned with true reform and is more a place where parents send away kids who have become too troublesome. It’s an isle of misfit boys.
But on his first full day at Slabhenge, a freak lightning storm leaves the kids without any adult supervision. Suddenly the inmates are running the asylum — and unless Jonathan can move beyond his troubled past and assert himself as a leader, every boy on the island is doomed.