Published by: Hachette, 13th April 2023
We loved the Animal Adventure Club young fiction series by Jess Butterworth but this is the first of her middle grade books we've read. Rich in setting, detail and drama, Jess Butterworth sticks firmly with the theme of animal conservation in the wild and explores the very concerning topic of gibbon smuggling in Cambodia...
When Lark Taylor finds herself stranded on a desert island with no one but a baby gibbon for company, her fight for survival becomes brutally real. But soon Lark has more than surviving on her mind as she begins to put the pieces of what happened to her together. Will Lark find her missing companion and get off the island? And can she put a stop to what is happening to the gibbons?
Told in diary format, which makes Lark's experience of being stranded so vivid that you feel like you're there with her, this is a story which unfolds before the readers eyes. With scorching sun, stinging jellyfish and a lack of water to contend with, Lark has to use her instinct and wits to stay alive whilst solving the mystery of why the boat she was on sank.
Lark is a strong and determined character but her fear and vulnerability of being stranded alone is portrayed beautifully by Jess Butterworth. The first half of the novel, which is illustrated by the fabulous Rob Biddulph, is essentially Lark's solo adventure - alone and afraid with only adorable Goldie for company. Yet, the story is anything but boring, flowing from the Lark like a river as she encounters and overcomes obstacle after obstacle. In the second half of the novel, the mystery comes more to the forefront, building to a dramatic and dangerous climax that took my breath away. The setting is richly imagined and the descriptions of the flora, fauna and animals on the island are wonderfully detailed.
Woven throughout Lark's story is also the story of Goldie and the gibbons. Raising awareness of human crimes against nature, it explores the danger of smuggling rings and the difficulty in stopping such activity. Heartbreaking and honest, it's a powerful read for the classroom and yet inspires hope within the reader that there is still time to act and people who want to help. On the other hand, however, there's no sugar-coating of the situation Lark finds herself in and I loved the truthfulness of her account which will keep readers gripped.
So, if you are after a survival story with animal welfare at its heart, this is a book for you. Wild yet wonderful, this has definitely made us want to read more of this author's work.
A big thanks to NetGalley and Hachette for allowing me a review copy. Lost on Gibbon Island releases tomorrow, 13th April 2023.