Joiner’s debut novel draws readers in with familiar themes but raises the stakes by setting it during one of modern history’s most violent natural disasters—the eruption of Mount Krakatau in 1883.
Born in the Dutch East Indies, Katrien Courtlandt is Dutch by ancestry but Javanese by all other accounts. Katrien struggles to fit into the mold of a 13-year-old Dutch girl and would much rather be exploring the jungle with her best friend, indigenous boy Slamet, than learning how to sew from Tante Greet, who is trying to groom her into the perfect Dutch lady. Her carefree days end when Mount Krakatau erupts, spewing ash across the sky and snatching everything dear to her—her father, her aunt, her friend, and her home. As fate would have it, Katrien is thrown together with her nemesis, Brigitta, and the rivals must overcome their differences to survive not just the loss of their families, but also deadly tsunamis and extreme thirst and hunger. Despite contrived speech patterns (why do indigenous people speak Dutch translated into broken English and “in a thick accent” generations after the Dutch arrived?) and inaccuracies (a “kampong” is a village not a thatched cottage, and the so-called Javanese language used is actually Bahasa Indonesia), the story is saved by an intriguing, if at times incredible, storyline.
Despite cultural slips, this heart-rending story of love and loss, family ties, and friendship will keep readers hooked till the end. (Historical fiction. 10-15)