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Elizabeth Atkinson

Elizabeth Atkinson has been an editor, a children's librarian, an English teacher, and a newspaper columnist. She lives in West Newbury, MA. Visit her on the web at elizabethatkinson.com

Blurbs

“For the first time in his life, Martin discovers feelings he’s never had before… A gently told coming-of-age story distinguished by its beautifully described island setting.”

– School Library Review

“A fit for readers of coming-of-age adventures by Gary Paulsen, Scott O’Dell, or Wilson Rawls.”

– Booklist

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The Island of Beyond

The Glorious Feeling of Freedom

06/06/16

I grew up in New York City but spent every summer in Maine, where the rules were entirely different—regardless of your age. My mother fed us breakfast and then ushered us out the door for the day. “Don’t forget your sailing lesson,” she’d say. “Stop at your grandparents’ if you’re hungry,” she’d add. We walked our bikes from behind the shed down to the street and took off. There was no slathering of sunscreen, hats, or even bike helmets. We were free for the whole entire day. We rode down to the back shore and tiptoed in the cold water looking for fish, snails, and cool rocks to put in our pocket and rub during the day. Then we’d head around the bend and fire down the hill whooping and hollering from the speed, hang a left onto Court Street and pull up in front of the library. We’d lie on the cold marble floor when it was hot outside and read through the shelves. If we were hungry, we’d leave the library and cross the green to my grandparents’ house where hot dogs cooked in lots of butter were handed to us. My grandmother would be watching Days of Our Lives and drinking a lunchtime martini, paying us no mind at all. Later, we’d head back out to see what frogs we could find in the gullies on the sides of the road. No one monitored what we did. If we got hurt, we shrugged it off or howled into the wind and kept on going.

Elizabeth Atkinson’s The Island of Beyond brought me right back to that glorious feeling of freedom. Eleven-year-old Martin has been sent to spend the summer in Maine with some distant relatives he’s never met. He is appalled at this parental move. Martin has been an outsider for most of his life. He doesn’t even have the comfort of parents who understand him, so he has very low expectations for what this summer in Maine will bring. Instead of judgment though, it brings freedom and a new friend who likes him for who he is. I was riveted by this book. I didn’t want to put it down for fear of losing time spent with Martin.

When Martin first meets Solo, he is appalled by Solo’s penchant for breaking the rules. Martin likes rules and if the world becomes confusing, he soothes himself by working on the miniature town he has created for himself called Martinville. But Solo stealthily shimmies into Martin’s life. He arrives at Martin’s house regularly, getting Martin to come with him on island adventures. Together they explore the water, treehouses, and the value of acceptance. Solo insists that he has lots of wild friends waiting for him all the time, but whenever Martin is around none of the friends show up. Instead of wondering if they are even actual friends (they aren’t), Martin believes that they just don’t want to meet him. Martin always thinks the best of others and the worst of himself. His father has fostered this negative self-concept in Martin, but he’s able to begin to see his own worth on the island.

In addition to Martin’s new friendship with Solo, another relationship unfolds during this summer month on the island. Martin gets to know his Aunt Lenore, who owns the beautiful old house they are living in. Lenore appears to be senile, but after she and Martin have spent some time together, she reveals that she is only pretending in order to see how people would treat her if she really was. Martin finds this very funny. Lenore tells Martin something he has never heard before: he is special, and he has a sense of joie de vivre that his father never had. As Martin comes to realize that Lenore sees his father the same way he does, he begins to trust his own instincts. These two relationships change Martin and his conception of himself.

Throughout the book, Atkinson nods to Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Raven,” from Lenore’s name to her pet raven, Poe. The symbolic significance of her raven stands as the embodiment of grief caused by loneliness and separation. For Martin, Lenore’s raven shows up whenever he is at his loneliest; once he is able to move through his grief, he finally sees his own strength and independence.

Martin is endearing, frustrating, and constantly evolving, which—as an adult reader—lends itself to personal introspection around how we develop into who we are and how just one month can change us forever. As I read The Island of Beyond, I wondered how other people develop their own fortitude, world perspective, and sense of place. Everyone may not be able to head to Maine for a summer of freedom and evolution, but we can all go there in a book called The Island of Beyond.

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