The Island That Didn’t Exist is the debut MG novel by BBC sports journalist Joe Wilson. Inspired by a coastal sign pointing to an uninhabited island, it has taken him fifteen years to write this thrilling adventure. The beautiful cover art, which has been digitally animated for the online marketing campaign is by George Ermos.
I was delighted to receive a proof copy as it is exactly the sort of book that I love to recommend to young readers – an exciting and imaginative tale, featuring resilient children, written in accessible language, and, at 272 pages appealing to reluctant readers who can be daunted by a 400 page novel. It is pitched as a contemporary Lord of the Flies meets The Famous Five. In my opinion it also had a touch of Alex Rider too; a winning combination.
Twelve-year-old Rixon Webster’s life is turned upside down when his mother takes him to the London law offices of Arnold Crump for the reading of her eccentric and mysterious Uncle Silvester’s will. This elusive individual has left his £2.5 million fortune to an obscure seagull sanctuary and his private island to Rixon! Also included in Rixon’s inheritance is an envelope stuffed with five-year-old newspaper clippings about a group of scientists who disappeared, with a world-changing invention, in unexplained circumstances and a memory stick holding unintelligible mathematical equations and diagrams.
Undaunted by the fact that the island has not appeared on any map since 1792, Rixon persuades his mum to drive him to the coastal location shown to him by Arnold Crump, and in the most daring act of his short life, he sets out to seek his inheritance in a “borrowed” motorboat ferry.
I do not wish to give away any plot spoilers, so apart from telling you that Rixon’s Splinter Island turns out to be occupied by four semi-wild, spear-throwing children I won’t provide any more details.
The story is perfectly paced to encourage readers of 9+ to keep turning the pages, and would also make an excellent class read-aloud, with the cliff-hanging chapter endings likely to make children plead for “just one more chapter.” It contains just the right degree of peril for a Key Stage 2 readership; it certainly does not descend to the same darkness as Lord of the Flies. The plotting is deftly handled with the steady revelation of details about Uncle Silvester, the reason for the children’s presence on Splinter Island and the tensions within Rixon’s family. Brilliantly woven into the plot is a message about power, in its many forms. The effect it has on individuals, the lengths that some will go to in pursuit of it, the responsibility inherent with the wielding of power and its impact on the way the world is run.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book and think that it will be extremely popular with boys and girls of 9 years and above when it is published in May 2020. I certainly hope that we don’t have to wait another fifteen years for the next book from Joe Wilson!
I am most grateful to OUP Children’s for my review copy.