Monday, October 8, 2012

The Secret of the Lonely Isles - Joanne van Os

Life has tossed some overwhelming hurdles at thirteen-year-old Jeremy Isherwood in the last few months. He feels doomed. For starters, not only is he the shortest in his family, he is the shortest in his new class. He is also doomed to a life of playing snakes and ladders with Neenie, his nutty and forgetful old grandmother. Jem’s family has had to move to the daggy old Isherwood house. It’s a far cry from living out on the mango farm, sixty kilometres south of Darwin, where life was happy.
But when the mango market becomes oversupplied and times get tough, Jem’s Dad must work in the mines, away from home for weeks at a time. A bad mining accident, in which he loses a leg and becomes confined to a wheelchair, has thrown the family into crisis. They’ve sold up the farm and moved in with Neenie, where the family dynamic has reached breaking point. Dad is not coping with his exercises and has lost his joie-de-vivre. Jem’s older sister, Maddy, spends most of her time either sneaking off to see her new boyfriend or slamming doors and arguing with her mother. Thank goodness for Jem’s dog and the horses. At least Jem can escape the tension for a while and ride down to the beach with his younger brother Tyler and Tyler’s friend Zac, from next door.
When it seems the family can bear no more, a visitor arrives out of the blue. It is Jem’s great aunt, Ella, who has returned from sailing around the world. When Jem’s Dad must go to Adelaide for two weeks to see his specialist, Ella offers to take Jem, Maddy, Tyler and Zac out on her yacht, Freya. Little do the four know that they are about to embark on an adventure they will never forget, and that in helping Ella solve a curious hundred-year-old mystery, they will fear for their lives.
Joanne van Os is a master of the adventure story. With its adroitly crafted plotting and endearing characters, children will find The Secret of the Lonely Isles hard to put down. It indulges the archetypal childhood dream of searching for buried treasure and negotiating with riddle and risk to find it. Packed with intrigue, incident and peril on the high seas, van Os has produced a meticulously researched story that will engage, educate and stimulate the imagination of all who read it. The story’s verisimilitude and accuracy are, no doubt, in part, a result of van Os’s sailing acumen and her first-hand experience of sailing around the top end of Australia and surrounding islands. Highly recommended.
Random House 2011
(A version of this review appears in Magpies Vol 26, Issue 1, March 2011)

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