Review: Kidnap at Mystery Island

Reviewed by Alex Eagles

Kidnap At Mystery Island, winner of the 2021 Storylines Tom Fitzgibbon Award, is the action-packed junior novel just released by Scholastic.

Kidnap At Mystery Island, winner of the 2021 Storylines Tom Fitzgibbon Award, is the action-packed junior novel just released by Scholastic.

This refreshingly original book is set in an optimistic future where new technology is resolving the planet's environmental issues. Author Carol Garden said she wanted to create a setting that provided hope for children anxious about climate change and ecological destruction so deliberately shied away from the Greta Thunberg-type environmental doom and gloom currently overwhelming our younger generation and focussed on a future Earth with a more positive outlook.

Most of the Year 6 and 7 students who helped me review the book were enthusiastic that the planet's problems were being rectified. Garden has also woven many other items topical for young people today into the story too, from gaming, cool inventions, single-parent families and making your own decisions about what is right and wrong.

Garden's characters include great role models for gender equality with a young New Zealand woman leading the world in developing scientific technology, weapon-wielding women commandos and men doing the cooking. The Uncle Blake character, who does most of the cooking in the book, is apparently based on Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson. Garden says she, "loved the idea of a big muscle-bound dude baking cookies in an apron.” I could never think of Uncle Blake the same after that.

A long, long time ago, I can still remember being a ten-year-old bookworm with my favourite reads stories where kids outwitted the bad guys and saved the day like Enid Blyton's Famous Five and Maurice Gee's Kiwi classic Under the Mountain. Not a lot has changed for me really; Kidnap At Mystery Island provided me with a captivating page-turner right up until the surprise twist at the very end.

Students at Pyes Pa School agreed with my verdict, although interestingly, different aspects of the story appealed to each individual. The superpowers' gifted' to children in this future world was one of the main talking points among my student readers. All agreed that finding out more about these abilities was one of the biggest hooks that enticed them to read the book after seeing the synopsis/blurb on the back cover.

I know that my child self would have loved the special ability to talk to sea animals and breathe underwater (and yes, I admit, my adult self too). However, most boys preferred the idea of blending in with any surface like a chameleon or mind reading. These superpowers definitely come in handy for the book's characters when trying to rescue a child kidnapped by a ruthless billionaire living on an artificial island. The baddie in the book (dubbed "the evil genius" by one student) thinks climate change is a hoax, which reminds me of someone, but I can't think who…

For an aspiring author of junior literature, winning the Storylines Tom Fitzgibbon Award has some similarities to an athlete winning a medal at the Commonwealth Games. The award provides the unpublished author with a prize worth its weight in gold. As well as widespread recognition, an award includes a publishing deal with the international company Scholastic whose books are distributed worldwide.

While many athletes hit the gym or the pool at 5am, many writers also get up before dawn to fit in a couple of hours pounding the keyboard before getting the kids off to school and themselves off to a day job. Margaret Mahy worked as a librarian by day, then wrote after her children were in bed through the night into the early morning hours. Garden used the extra time afforded by the 2020 Covid lockdown to start Kidnap At Mystery Island but had to fit the subsequent rewriting around her primary employment.

While athletes often have a time or distance to aim for, writing is highly subjective and what one editor discards, another may recognise as a best-seller. Harry Potter is a famous example of this. Almost all Year 6 and 7 students at Pyes Pa School with whom I had the pleasure to work agreed with the judges that Garden deserved to win the author's equivalent of the Commonwealth gold medal for junior fiction for her impressive debut novel Kidnap At Mystery Island. We all agreed that we cannot wait to read the sequel, which Garden says is already underway.

Reviewed by Alex Eagles