Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Ferret Island

Since the day I finished Ferret Island by Richard Jennings sometime in mid-July, I have been thinking two things:

  1. Everyone needs to know about this great book.

  2. This book is impossible to describe adequately.

After all these weeks of debating these two issues, I sought out reviews. School Library Journal, a source I usually like, gave the book a big thumbs down. Booklist was a little more favorable, but not much. Hornbook seems to have enjoyed it, but without wild praise. The sole customer review on Amazon was a far-less than enthusiastic two stars. Is there something wrong with me or with the rest of the world?

The big flaw with Ferret Island is its terrible cover. (Look it up on the Emerson School catalog and see for yourself. Be sure to click on the cover to see the Title Peek for a close-up of the cover plus reviews of the book, including those that don't agree with me.) What kid wants to even open a book with a cover done in grays and browns? I wasn't sure I wanted to open it but having enjoyed other books by Jennings, I forged on.

It took maybe half a page to have me totally hooked. If I were to write a book, this is how I want to write. It is full of literary allusions--some very obvious, like the boy Finn who is befriended by a ferret he names Jim, and some that you will have to think about a little harder. There are myriad social commentaries on things like gossip magazines, fast food, and pop culture. Jokes abound. You may have to reread it--I plan to it once I have gotten everyone in grade four or above to give it a whirl--to get find them all. I laughed out loud. More importantly, I keep thinking about the story.

So, what is Ferret Island about? That's a really good question. Simply put, it is about a fourteen year old boy who falls off a tour boat in the Mississippi River near Memphis and ends up on an almost deserted island. He seems quite comfortable there, collecting trash to furnish a home for himself and keeping busy with interesting odds and ends. Even when he discovers that a number of giant ferrets share the island, he is much less concerned than I would be. He is thrilled, as I might be, to find that his favorite author shares the island as well. (Frankly, I am not so sure I agree with his choice of most admired author.) All of these elements soon mix together with strange plot twists that I couldn't adequately describe, even if I weren't afraid of telling too much of the story.

Read this book if you like Daniel Pinkwater's books. Read this book if you have a good sense of humor or wish that you did. Read this book if thing a little differently from some of the people around you--or the people who review books for a living. Read this book just because it is so very funny and good. Just don't read it while eating at McDonald's. (Read the book to find out why I said that.)

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