Wednesday Wasteland: Lighthouse Island

Posted 13 August, 2014 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Wednesday Wasteland: Lighthouse IslandLighthouse Island by Paulette Jiles
Published by HarperCollins on July 29th 2014
Genres: Coming of Age, Dystopian, Fiction, Literary
Pages: 416

I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange honest review consideration. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

A beautiful and captivating dystopian tale resonant with love and hope from the acclaimed poet and New York Times bestselling author of The Color of Lightning, Stormy Weather, and Enemy WomenSee the rain forests . . . northern beauty, misted nights. Come to Lighthouse Island . . .In the coming centuries, Earth's population has exploded and covered the planet with endless cities. It is an unwelcoming world for Nadia Stepan, abandoned at age four and left with only a drawing of the Big Dipper and her mother's parting words: "Look to the North Star, and we will always be there." Nadia grows up dreaming of the vacation spot called Lighthouse Island, in a place called the Pacific Northwest where she believes her long-lost parents must be.In the meantime, this bright and witty orphan finds refuge in neglected books, and the voice of Big Radio that emanates from an abandoned satellite, patiently reading the great classical books of the world.When an opportunity for escape appears, Nadia strikes out in search of a dream. She faces every contingency with inventiveness and meets a man who changes the course of her life. Together, they head north toward a place of wild beauty that lies far beyond the megalopolis: Lighthouse Island.

I was thrilled to be reading a literary dystopia. I’ve always loved literary dystopias and quite frankly, I’m more than bored with the drivel coming out of the YA leg of the genre. Lighthouse Island is beautifully written but unfortunately it’s only relatively enjoyable.

The characters are likable enough, but during the novel, some of the situations that they get themselves out of feel a bit unbelievable. I feel like Nadia should have died at least twice during the first half of the novel. 

Jiles brings up much to think about in this novel: global warming, government surveillance, the insane ubiquity of televisions. It could be because I just finished Caitlin Moran’s How to Build a Girl which doesn’t so much as suggest themes, choosing instead to slap you in the face with them – but I felt like the themes (all good ones!) in Lighthouse Island are a bit underdeveloped. Then again, they might just be subtle, my mind coming from a different place.

I think that my biggest problem with it is that the world building leans heavily on Orwell’s 1984, and while it’s true that no one should be writing dystopias who hasn’t read that – the overall feel of the first half of the novel felt like Jiles sat down and outlined her world with her copy of 1984 open and threw in the current issue of global warming and called it world building.  

My other major gripe, is actually something I think that was done intentionally – it’s difficult to tell the passage of time in the novel. Nadia changes her name many times throughout. The novel opens when she’s four – suddenly there’s a jump and she’s in school … and so it goes. Jiles has built a world where calendars are no longer kept in an effort for the government to break up the continuity of its citizens, I’m pretty sure that the difficulty in telling how much time has passed (has it been hours or years?) is a device being used to pull the reader into the book further – but personally, it put me off a bit because I had to come out of the world of the novel and think, “Wait, wasn’t she just in school?”

The second half of the book is completely incongruous with the first, it’s a bit weird – but the first half becomes pedantic after awhile so I feel like the change of pace was one of the things that actually saves this novel. 

I liked the incorporation of great literature and poetry in this novel. There’s a bit of delight in being able to pick out passages and poems that you know. This will appeal to literary geeks, like me.

Overall, this book is a solid three. It’s an enjoyable read, especially for lovers of literary fiction and dystopia. It’s also refreshing to see another woman, other than Margaret Atwood tackle speculative/dystopian literary fiction. Definitely worth a trip to the library.

So, Readers, how do you feel when the world building just seems too reminiscent of another book (classic or otherwise)? Does it rattle your chains a bit, or are you glad to revel back in the world of an old favorite with fresh eyes and characters? 

I’m excited to be participating in the tour for Paulette Jiles’ Lighthouse Island, be sure to check out the entire tour schedule here, it runs through 28 August and there have already been some fabulous posts on it. 

April @ The Steadfast Reader


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