Book Review #34 – The Island At The End Of Everything

Some butterflies only live a day, some a week, some a month. But they spend every one of those days busy living. And they make the world a more beautiful place, however brief their time – Kiran Millwood Hargrave.

As soon as I saw the blue cover with the beautiful butterflies, I knew I would want to read Kiran Millwood Hargrave’s second novel. I loved reading The Girl Of Ink & Stars so much that I was sure this novel would be just as beautiful.

Set on a real island, Culion Island, in the Philippines, Hargrave’s latest story takes us to a time when leprosy touched and tainted lives across the world. When I personally think of leprosy, I think of the old films with Jesus, or Greek men, who go and support the lepers who live in caves and forests away from the rest of the world; it is something that I don’t think about because nowadays we don’t see or hear anything about those who lived – or live – with this bacterial disease. Reading The Island At The End Of Everything really opened up my eyes to how it would have been to those suffering, not only from the disease, but from how people reacted to them, treating them as barbarians that needed to be enclosed, rather than as humans with feelings and their own torment.

Amihan – Ami for short – is our young heroine. She is not Touched, but her nanay (mother) is. She leads a happy, if a little boring, life: going to school to be taught by nuns, returning home to sit with her mother, planting flowers and herbs in her garden, always waiting for the butterflies to come. Then, a stranger comes to town. His name is Mr Zamora and it is his delegation, on behalf of the government, to segregate all those who are deemed lepers and those who are clean. All the children under the age of eighteen are to be sent to another island, to an orphanage, away from their families.

It is clear that Ami does not want to go, that her family and Sister Margaritte, the kind nun, do not want to see her leave all that she has known all her short life. However, she must. Her nanay promises that she will write letters every day, that Ami will have an incredible adventure, one that she will always remember. Of course, she does but not in the sense that everyone thought.

On the new island, Coron, Ami meets a girl with a deformed hand called Mariposa. Named after the butterflies, she is wild and free and wants to do what is right by everyone. Together they form an unbreakable friendship which is tested throughout their adventure which leads them home and beyond.

I had a huge lump in my throat towards the end of the novel because I knew what was coming. It was heart-breaking to read because all over the page, there was only love – the omnibenevolent, all-encompassing, brave, mountain-moving kind of love between mother and daughter. Not only that, but with the book itself, I didn’t want it to end. I want to know more about the thirty years in between, the moment after the final words, the love and friendship that will surely blossom and be beautiful like the butterflies that are so precious to the characters in the novel.

Again, Kiran writes eloquently, as if magic runs from her fingertips. Her words and phrases are simple so that a younger reader can love the book as much as an adult, and yet the language she uses is remarkable in the sense that you can almost feel the delicate touch of a butterfly’s wing, or smell and taste the richness of the special oranges, or feel the splash and spray of the salty sea. The islands – Culion and Coron – are vivid to the imagination with their rainforests, snakes and fishes. I just love Kiran’s writing and I really, really hope there’s another novel coming out soon that can let us dive into a whole new world.

At the core of the novel – the heart of the story – is the love and friendship, and how important it is to not judge other people because of a sickness, or a disease, or even a disability. At the end of the story, there are three separate chapters where Ami – as a woman in her forties – teaches a young Sol that it is rude to write off a person, simply because of how they look. By the end of Ami’s story, Sol has had a complete change of heart, knowing that she was wrong to think poorly of others who just needed a slight bit of help, and a friendly face.

Again, I think Kiran’s work should be put on a school’s syllabus.

Have you read The Island At The End Of Everything? What are your thoughts? Your favourite parts?

Love, Faye xo

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