YA Review: Girl Island

Title: Girl Island
Author: Kate Castle

YA Review: Girl Island

Wow – this book is good! It’s a female take on Lord of the Flies with strong Yellowjackets vibes. With a smaller cast and a much more focused story than Yellowjackets, I found it more convincing as an exploration of inter-personal dynamics in an all-female group. Full disclosure: I went to a single-sex school in the 1990s, around the time the book is set, so I am very familiar with the power and personality clashes in an all-female environment. This book captures them perfectly.

Ellery is farm girl. She’s keeping her family’s struggling fruit farm running after the death of her father, supporting her mother and younger brother as they all take on the extra work to keep the business going. She’s also an athletics star, and British Under-18 Heptathlon champion. When her achievements win her a full scholarship to an exclusive private school, she reluctantly accepts the mid-term switch to being the new girl, the scholarship girl, and the student who goes home at night to her beloved farm with its mis-matched furniture and make-do-and-mend lifestyle.

The scholarship includes an all-expenses-paid trip to an elite sports camp in the Maldives, and her first experience of her new school is the flight to Male with her new PE teacher and seven of her classmates – two boys and five girls. It doesn’t take long for her to discover the rift between the popular girls with the good-looking boyfriends, and the more academic Delia Dawkes. And then there’s the awkward reunion with Skye, the ex-best friend she hasn’t seen for two years. Plenty of opportunity for inter-personal conflict.

Of course, the trip doesn’t go to plan. The island-hopper plan crashes, leaving the party a long way off course and marooned on a deserted island. Dawkes and Ellery focus on long-term survival, including keeping their injured teacher alive, while the popular girls are more concerned with power, and their place in the hierarchy of the group. It’s a recipe for conflict and disaster, and when the boys head off to swim to the neighbouring island, the female power-plays become more vicious, and more dangerous.

The author brilliantly captures the dynamics of an all-girl group. The popular girls are used to being at the top of the group hierarchy, but when they find themselves in a situation that requires a different set of skills, they are ready to fight to maintain power. Ellery and Dawkes, used to being on the sidelines of all-female interactions, find themselves offering the solutions the girls need, but meeting resistance as they challenge the established social structure. I was impressed by the portrayal of the popular girls before and after the departure of their boyfriends. While their priority is keeping their man and the associated status, they exhibit a particular set of behaviours, but in the absence of the boys, they become much more focused on their own roles in the group – and much more dangerous.

As the book progresses, and the girls remain stranded, the tension on the island increases. The power-plays become more extreme as the need for sustainable survival strategies becomes more apparent, and the group splits under the pressure. Ellery finds friendship as well as conflict, and it is wonderful to follow the positive relationships as they develop in spite of the danger. It’s an entirely believable story, and the narrator’s fear feels very real. There are deliberate nods to Lord of the Flies in the plot, but you don’t need to know the original story in order to appreciate this book.

Plenty of readers have asked how the Lord of the Flies scenario would change if the marooned children were girls, not boys. This book provides a highly plausible, equally disturbing answer. I loved it.

Have you read Girl Island? What did you think of Ellery’s experiences? Would you survive on Girl Island? Click through to the full blog to access the comments section, and share your thoughts! No spoilers, though – you can post those on GoodReads!

YA review: Girl Island cross-posted to GoodReads.

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2 Replies to “YA Review: Girl Island”

  1. I really enjoyed this one – thanks for the recommendation!

    An interesting thing I noted is how Dawkes is characterised as being a certain flavour of neurodiverse without it ever being named (as it probably wouldn’t have been named 30 years ago) but the way she focuses on certain things and tries to maintain order would be recognised by folks aware of these things.

  2. It’s great, isn’t it? And you’re right about Dawkes – that’s a really interesting point. It makes me want to pick up ‘Lord of the Flies’ again and see how those characters appear to readers in 2023.

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