Some orphans and a father figure live on a distant island, shoveling the world’s trash to ravenous pigs that will eat anything.
This expressive but bizarre novel by Stoberock (City of Ghosts, 2003) is a deeply strange take on our quickly developing environmental challenges that falls somewhere between The Lord of the Flies, The Maze Runner, and every other fantasy novel that pits the children of our planet against a dying world. In this case, once more, the kids are isolated on a remote island populated by adults who are pretty much a-holes. The kids have to feed an unending supply of the world’s garbage, delivered by ship, to voracious pigs that can literally eat anything, including things like glass and toasters. There are only four of them: Luisa, the clutz who's already lost one of her fingers to a hungry pig; Mimi, the oldest but maybe not wisest; Andrew, whose narcoleptic fits are a big problem; and Natasha, who is just a prelingual toddler when the book opens. Things kick off when the kids open a barrel of trash to find another kid, Eddie, inside, and they quickly banish him. Why don’t the kids just escape? The water is deadly in some mysterious way, although they do find a remote cave to hide in from time to time. As a metaphor for climate change and humanity’s deepening arc toward self-destruction, the novel works fine, but Stoberock’s lyrical prose and lifeless characters rob the story of any juice. It doesn’t help that the grown-ups are grotesque, not only barbecuing and devouring one of the invaluable pigs, but also threatening to kill and eat the kids, encouraged by the banished exile, Eddie. If there’s a saving grace, it’s the one noble grown-up, Otis, robbed of his wife and son by his unplanned exile to the island, whose willingness to sacrifice himself is a model of literary nobility.
An artfully written fable has plenty of messaging but its storytelling lacks luster.