Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt on June 7, 2016
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When Marrow Island by Alexis M. Smith popped up in my library feed, I was intrigued. I was first drawn to the cover but the synopsis, which sounded a lot like a real-life, post-apocalyptic eco-cult of a book, had me hooked. It’s the story of Lucie, who, as a child, was forced to leave her home after an earthquake devastated the island and killed her father, who worked at the island’s refinery. Twenty years later, following an invitation from her childhood friend, Katie, she returns to the island to learn about the people who are seeking to revitalize the land. Despite her personal ties to the land, she can’t quite keep her journalistic tendencies at bay and begins asking questions that have uncomfortable answers. What effects will the toxins from the refinery spill have on those who stayed behind? What type of person willingly puts themselves at such a risk? Does the government know they are there?
The story that unfolds is a bit scattered, but interesting. First, there’s the story of Lucie and Katie, who were childhood friends that lost touch over the years. Upon coming back to the island at Katie’s request, the two women attempt to rekindle the bond they once had. Katie is one of of the colonists that is reviving the island, but what’s good for the land may not be good for Katie, and Lucie can’t help but wonder what types of dangers lurk beneath the soil. Her questions lead her down a path that presents its own dangers, but not everyone wants her to find the answers. There’s also a mystery and romance angle to the book, but neither are central to the story – the mystery thread could have been skipped entirely without detracting from the overall effect.
Marrow Island had a lot of promise. The concept of a group of people living on and revitalizing toxic land through their own unique methods, despite the consequences to themselves, is an excellent one. I was expecting the book to be predominantly about this plot line, but the island served more as a setting and a backstory than anything else. Instead, the book is about Lucie; where she is in life currently, her relationship with Katie, her personal life, her inner demons, and so on. Each of these would be fascinating if fully developed, but there were so many threads and while all touched upon, none were delved into deeply. This approach will work for some readers but it meant that I had a hard time investing in Lucie and her story.Check out this story of one woman's return to the toxic island she grew up on. Click To Tweet
The book also felt choppy to me, which may have been because I read the e-book version and was not able to clearly delineate time. I’m assuming that the physical copy has section breaks that were not obvious in the digital version, which would have made sections about the past a lot easier to identify. I was also distracted by the use of both Kate and Katie for a single character. I tried to figure out the rhyme or reason to it (maybe Katie was only used when referring to childhood?) but was never able to figure it out, even though I flipped back and forth and did a Kindle search for both names.
Despite all this, Marrow Island was a decent read. The past few books I’ve picked up were ones I did not finish and it was nice to read a story that had me easily flipping through the pages again. I have no doubt that if knew that the book was less about the colony than Lucie (and maybe read a physical copy), I would have enjoyed it a lot more. While I wish the book was about 100 pages longer and was more about the ins-and-0uts of the colony’s inhabitants, I know that would be a different book, altogether. So, if you take this one at face value, it’s a good, weekend read.
Recommended for: Fans of personal relationship stories with a rural backdrop.