In Burroughs’ debut YA novel, twin siblings are sent to a secret boarding school and confront new realities about themselves, technology and the world at large.
Anya and Harlie Fox know that something is strange when, on a family vacation to Bermuda, their mom puts them on a plane to explore an island without her. Once in flight, the pilot hands them a map and a riddle, and their island explorations quickly lead them to Caminus Academy, a remote, clandestine boarding school where they find out that they are the latest candidates to become students. They also learn that their parents are alumni of the school, which is so secret that graduates aren’t even allowed to reveal their attendance. It turns out that the academy, which teaches students “how to think—and how not to,” uses outlandish technology, including holograms and mind-reading equipment. Caminus’ administrators decide they want the twins to become students, and, after some deliberation, both accept the invitation. As their academic year progresses, Anya and Harlie discover that they both have secret magical talents; Anya can hear other peoples’ thoughts, and Harlie can move objects with his mind. The school year goes smoothly until, suddenly, intruders are detected on the island, and one of the Foxes’ classmates is kidnapped. When Harlie, Anya and their friends take it upon themselves to unravel the mystery and rescue the missing girl, they entangle themselves in a situation that’s far more grave—and personal—than they ever imagined. Burroughs creates a rich, intricate world here, and although some of the magical details and inventions may be hard for readers to keep track of, the school and its lifestyle are alluring and enthralling. Readers may note some similarities to J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, and, like Hogwarts, the school and its students seem well-suited as the subject of their own series. One of the novel’s shortcomings, however, is its depiction of Islam; some readers may find the use of Muslim extremists as the novel’s villains to be controversial or possibly offensive. The characters and their relationships are also unfortunately underdeveloped; readers may wish they knew as much about the students’ inner lives as they do about the intriguing world around them.
A flawed but whimsical fantasy tale about high school life and self-discovery.