Book Review: The Vanishing Island by Barry Wolverton

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Easily one of the best middle grade books I’ve read in ages, The Vanishing Island by Barry Wolverton promises to become an instant classic for readers young and old alike.

vanishing islandDoes the Vanishing Island really exist? And if so, what treasure—or terrible secret—was hidden by its disappearance?

It’s 1599, the Age of Discovery in Europe. But for Bren Owen, growing up in the small town of Map on the coast of Britannia has meant anything but adventure. Enticed by the tales sailors have brought through Map’s port, and inspired by the arcane maps his father creates as a cartographer for the cruel and charismatic map mogul named Rand McNally, Bren is convinced that fame and fortune await him elsewhere. That is, until his repeated attempts to run away land him a punishment worse than death—cleaning up the town vomitorium.

It is there that Bren meets a dying sailor, who gives him a strange gift that hides a hidden message. Cracking the code could lead Bren to a fabled lost treasure that could change his life forever, and that of his widowed father. But to get there he will have to tie his fate to a mysterious Dutch admiral obsessed with a Chinese legend about an island that long ago disappeared from any map.

Before long, Bren is in greater danger than he ever imagined, and will need the help of an unusual friend named Mouse to survive. Barry Wolverton’s thrilling adventure spans oceans and cultures, brings together the folklore of East and West, and proves that fortune is always a double-edged sword.

Wolverton’s writing is delightful, transporting readers easily to Bren’s world: first, his dismal life in Map — and then his adventures aboard a Dutch ship, as they search for the mysterious and titular Vanishing Island. I was instantly swept away by the story, and honestly can’t wait for the next installment in Wolverton’s fantastic new middle grade saga.

Packed with humor, adventure, and important (but not heavy-handed) messages about life and growing up, mixed in with exciting locations and wonderfully charming characters, The Vanishing Island contains all the ingredients for a perfect middle grade series — and lives up to that promise.

Wbat’s more, Wolverton doesn’t hold back for his young readers. The Vanishing Island is not a warm and fuzzy story. The novel includes plenty of gore and violence, and Wolverton doesn’t shy away from being raw and honest in his portrayal of the world’s darker aspects. (That said, it IS still age-appropriate!) In many ways, it’s this brutal honesty that makes for the best middle grade stories. (Let’s be honest; Harry Potter was pretty dark. And I’m certain fellow fans of the boy wizard will adore The Vanishing Island, just as I did.)

The adventure sets sail September 1st when The Vanishing Island hits store shelves.

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