Island Book by Evan Dahm, 288 pp, RL 4
Island Book by Evan Dahm
Review Copy from First Second
With a square trim size and provocative cover, you can tell Island Book is special before even opening it. Dahm's crisp illustrations begin building a world immediately, with the big round eyes of Sola, the main character, drawing you in. Dahm introduces themes of isolationism immediately, as readers learn that Sola's home island was once, "a smaller world, a safer world . . . before the Monster came." And, when this Moster emerged from the waves bringing destruction, it seemed to be seeking Sola, who watched it come, calmly and quietly. Because of this, the islanders have both hatred for and fear of Sola. Determined to be as bold as her parents, who disappeared when they set out to find the Monster, and Ila, her astronomer-guardian, Sola sets off on her own.
Once at sea, Sola's adventure seems to go from bad to worse, meeting a mysterious crone on a beach after her boat is destroyed then moving on to a feudal, testosterone fueled island where she barely escapes, a bullied islander named Hunder in tow. Together, the two attempt to find the Monster but instead find an island where the inhabitants write reverent odes to the Monster, one they have never actually encountered. Here, Sola and Hunder gain another crew member, Wick, a poet who seeks experience to make his writing authentic. Another violent encounter leads to healing and answers for Sola, Hunder and Wick - something different for each seeker. Magically, they all manage to find their way back to their own islands, changed, but still questioning.
While the story itself may seem simple, Dahm's illustrations, from the character creation and development to the visual story telling that turns the watery world itself into a character, are engrossing and enchanting. The world of Island Book feels simultaneously familiar and new and one that I hope to visit again.