Review: ‘The Islands at the End of the World’ by Austin Aslan

Review: ‘The Islands at the End of the World’ by Austin AslanThe Islands at the End of the World by Austin Aslan
Series: The Islands at the End of the World #1
Genres: Action & Adventure, Dystopian, Science Fiction, Survival Stories, Young Adult
Published by Random House Children's Books on August 5, 2014
Format: Hardcover
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Right before my eyes, my beautiful islands are changing forever. And so am I ...

Sixteen-year-old Leilani loves surfing and her home in Hilo, on the Big Island of Hawaii. But she's an outsider - half white, half Hawaiian, and an epileptic.

While Lei and her father are on a visit to Oahu, a global disaster strikes. Technology and power fail, Hawaii is cut off from the world, and the islands revert to traditional ways of survival. As Lei and her dad embark on a nightmarish journey across islands to reach home and family, she learns that her epilepsy and her deep connection to Hawaii could be keys to ending the crisis before it becomes worse than anyone can imagine.

A powerful story enriched by fascinating elements of Hawaiian ecology, culture, and warfare, this captivating and dramatic debut from Austin Aslan is the first of two novels. The author has a master’s degree in tropical conservation biology from the University of Hawaii at Hilo.

You know when you can spot a book that you know you’ll love from a mile away? A book that just screams you?

That was definitely this book for me.

Let’s just take a moment to see what Tags I gave this post: Dystopian, Hawaii, Mythology, Sci-Fi, Survival Stories. 

Now, this might sound like a rather strange mix. (Now that I think about it, a similar mix of genres can be found in Jessica Khoury’s Origin.) But I just couldn’t love it more. Squee!

If I haven’t been obvious enough about it before, I am a huge fan of Sci-Fi and Dystopian. Survival Stories naturally fall into the mix, and I would rarely pass up an opportunity to read a book based in Mythology. Which leaves…

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The sibs and I feelin’ pretty happy at the top of the Kuilau Trail!

HAWAII!! (Caution: I get pretty worked up over Hawaii, haha.) My family and I had the privilege of visiting Kauai, Hawaii’s oldest island, a few years ago, and I have never been to a more beautiful or relaxed place. Hawaii is truly such a special place, from the landscape to its culture.

And honestly, why aren’t more books set in these beautiful islands?! As Aslan has so ingeniously and terrifyingly shown with his debut book, there may be no greater place to set an Apocalyptic story than the isolated islands of Hawaii. From the author on the book’s Goodreads page:

“Everybody knows what happens at the end of the world in New York and LA, but what would a global disaster mean for Islanders? 95% of Hawaii’s food is imported every day. The islands are home to 1.5 million people. If things got tough there, where would all those people go? There are no mountain ranges or Great Plains to escape to. Everyone is stuck. Hungry. No way to escape.” 

Between my visit and all the reading I did in preparation for the trip, I know a bit more about the islands than the next person — which is still not too much compared with the vast wealth of knowledge there is to know about Hawaii — and I can say that this definitely helped deepen my connection with the story. The tales of the islands’ rich mythology, their geography, and their current struggles were already somewhat familiar and dear to me, which helps to explain why I drooled over this book until I had it in my hands, and simply devoured it as fast as I could when I finally had it.

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My favorite mountain on all of Kauai.

The setting is absolutely crucial to this book, and is what really makes The Islands at the End of the World stand out in more ways than one. The idea of paradise quickly devolving into a nightmare highlights how the world could really turn upside-down so fast in the event of some sort of apocalypse.

The setting also played into a major theme in the book, which in my opinion helped make it so much more than just a survival story: Belonging. As half Hawaiian, half white (with an appearance that makes it a struggle to fit in with the locals), MC Leilani has only lived in Hawaii with her family for 3 years. Though she feels a deep connection to the island as she discovers more about her own culture and heritage, she can’t seem to fit in. Her fits of epilepsy further alienate her from others.

“Long black hair. Oval face with high cheeks. My eyes are hazel, my complexion is… too light. I’m almost as white as Dad.”

I could personally understand Leilani so well, being of mixed heritage myself. I’m half white and half Hispanic, but my appearance and Germanic last name disconnect me from any casual association with my Hispanic heritage. Though I’m not a native Spanish speaker, I’ve been learning about the language and culture for 7 years now. While I love what parts of my culture I know, I often find it hard to believe that I’ll ever truly feel like a part of the Hispanic community — which is why I felt and rooted for Leilani every step of the way.

Ridiculously beautiful Taro fields in Hanalei.

Ridiculously beautiful Taro fields in Hanalei.

Aslan’s book also grapples with the serious land dispute issues occurring in Hawaii, which I’ve been fortunate enough to have been exposed to during my 1st semester in college. Since the beginning of Hawaii’s statehood — or, it’s illegal and unwanted annexation and overthrow of local government — there has been a movement to restore land and governing rights back to Native Hawaiians, essentially recognizing it as an independent nation. So, to whom do these islands belong — the United States, or native Hawaiians? Who belongs to this category labeled as ‘Hawaiian’ when Hawaiians themselves are so mixed in heritage, and how might this split up families? Do the natural treasures of Hawaii belong only to natives, or should they be shared? It’s no simple issue, but Aslan incorporates it into his book admirably. 

I don’t want to give too much away, but this Belonging theme isn’t the only thing that makes The Islands at the End of the World more than just a survival story. As the book progresses, the mythology and Sci-fi elements begin to intertwine more closely with the plot, until they steal center stage. I really enjoyed these elements and thought that they were well-developed, even if at around the midway point I thought my head would explode (in a good way) from all the extra intensity these elements added to the already dramatic storyline.

Not only were these elements fascinating, but thanks to author-scientist Austin Aslan, they also seemed plausible. I’m going to out and admit it here that I’ve got a bit of idol-worship for the guy — one look at his biography and you might, too. The book closely mirrors his life in some aspects, and his master’s degree in tropical conservation biology from the University of Hawaii at Hilo really adds credibility to the story.

All-in-all, The Islands at the End of the World was a fast-paced, desperate story of survival that made my head spin — but also hit close to home with its setting and theme. I may or may not have shed a tear or two somewhere along the way, and I adored the father-daughter relationship in the book. That this series is set to be just a two-booker seems perfect to me, as the sequel will be able to be just as fast-paced while also expanding and wrapping up the story.


Everything you’d ever want in a Survival Story and more, thanks to its unique setting.

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Review: ‘Perfect Ruin’ by Lauren Destefano

Review: ‘Perfect Ruin’ by Lauren DestefanoPerfect Ruin by Lauren DeStefano
Series: The Internment Chronicles #1
Genres: Dystopian, Fantasy, Legends, Myths, Fables, Realistic Fantasy, Young Adult
Published by Simon and Schuster on 2013-10-01
Format: Hardcover
Source: http://www.goodreads.com, http://www.imbd.com
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On Internment, the floating island in the clouds where 16-year-old Morgan Stockhour lives, getting too close to the edge can lead to madness. Even though Morgan's older brother, Lex, was a Jumper, Morgan vows never to end up like him. She tries her best not to mind that her life is orderly and boring, and if she ever wonders about the ground, and why it is forbidden, she takes solace in her best friend Pen and her betrothed, Basil.

Then a murder, the first in a generation, rocks the city. With whispers swirling and fear on the wind, Morgan can no longer stop herself from investigating, especially when she meets Judas. He is the boy being blamed for the murder — betrothed to the victim — but Morgan is convinced of his innocence. Secrets lay at the heart of Internment, but nothing can prepare Morgan for what she will find — or who she will lose.

I. Loved. This. Book. Period.

But since I can’t just leave my review at that, I guess I have to continue.

Morgan lives in the floating city of Internment, which was said to have been raised into the air by the god of the sky to punish the humans whose demands of the gods never seemed to end. Life on Internment is safe, comfortable, and without jealousy or greed. A person may choose any path in life, but no one can approach ‘the edge’ or attempt to reach the ground. But for Morgan, Internment seems to get smaller everyday as her yearning to know about ‘the ground’ grows. When the first murder in a generation occurs, it sets off a spiraling series of events that opens Morgan’s eyes to the truth about the city that is her whole world.

I was enchanted by the city of Internment, which coincidentally reminds me of another floating city (I know, how many can there be?) called Laputa from Hayao Miyazaki’s film Castle in the Sky, which apparently has its own roots in Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels.

The world building in Perfect Ruin is both spectacular and captivating. Internment, having existed separately from ‘the ground’, has over time developed its own religion, history, and culture that I absolutely loved reading about. Many of Internment’s practices also stem from its need to conserve space and resources, as the ‘island’ is quite small. I had no trouble reading on as I found out all about Internment’s customs, from assigning betrothals (engagements) at birth, the ‘birth queue’ that couples must join to be allowed to have a child, the ‘Festival of Lights’ (a sort of Christmas holiday) and so on.

None of the other elements of the book disappoint, either; the characters are the next-best thing about Perfect Ruin. Morgan is compassionate and always trying to take care of everyone else in her life, yet knows when she needs to rely on and confide in others. While she starts off as naive, she slowly becomes aware of the true nature of life on Internment and is anything but passive as she strives for justice. Her best friend Pen has her own distinct personality, beliefs, and problems, and her friendship with Morgan is believable and strong. Basil, her betrothed, knows Morgan perhaps better than she knows herself, and loves and supports her through all her troubles and fantasies about ‘the ground’. Even Lex, her older brother who is now blind and bitter after being a ‘Jumper’, is so dear to Morgan as he reminds her of herself and her own struggles. All in all, there is not a character that I didn’t like in this book, and they all add to the story.

As for the plot, I was never bored. Internment quickly becomes a less-than safe place, and crimes and mistrust abound. So many elements of the story begin to come together in the later parts of the book, and I enjoyed the many plot-twists. By the end I was an emotional ball of nerves, quickly flipping through the pages to find out what would happen. And with the way the book ended, there is no doubt that I will be reading the sequel.

Destefano’s artful and poetic writing was really just an added bonus to an already great book. Her beautiful prose added to my sense of wonder about Internment and gave the book a whimsical and dreamy tone.


A must read! I enjoyed the creative world-building. No part will disappoint!

Throwback Thursday: Review: ‘The Giver’ by Lois Lowry

Throwback Thursday: Review: ‘The Giver’ by Lois LowryThe Giver by Lois Lowry
Series: The Giver #1
Genres: Dystopian, Young Adult
Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt on 1993-01-01
Format: Hardcover
Source: http://www.ew.com/ew/, http://www.goodreads.com
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Jonas' world is perfect. Everything is under control. There is no war or fear or pain. There are no choices. Every person is assigned a role in the Community. When Jonas turns twelve, he is singled out to receive special training from The Giver. The Giver alone holds the memories of the true pain and pleasure of life. Now, it is time for Jonas to receive the truth. There is no turning back.

So for starters, if you missed it in the book information above, this book was first published in 1993. Nineteen-ninety-three! I wasn’t even born then! If anything makes a good Throwback Thursday, it’s a book published over two decades ago.

Of course, it’s been in the news as of late because it has a movie adaptation coming out in August. But more on that later…:)

The Giver is definitely different from other YA Dystopias, probably because it was one of the first. Overall it has a noticeably slower pace and less action. And, setting it apart from most dystopias, the book’s narrator is 12-year old Jonas, versus the typical 16-year old girl so popular in dystopias.

While different doesn’t always mean better, in the case of The Giver, I embraced the diversity that it brought. While most other books in the genre have found success by following recent precedents, Lowry’s book goes about things differently but has its own appeal. Jonas’ point-of-view gave me a very clear understanding of his ‘community,’ one that was unclouded by superfluities and still innocent, unlike that of a usually jaded teenaged narrator. It gave the story a very straightforward and honest feeling.

But in all honesty, I did miss the action and fast pacing found in today’s dystopias. In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Lowry even suggests that, “If The Giver had been published this year, maybe no publisher would have wanted it because it’s…tame compared to the others.”

However, it’s not the action that shines in The Giver; it’s the questions the book brings up. Lowry’s novel made me question so many things I take for granted and examines things that I’ve never even given a second thought:

  • Without memories, can someone ever truly be ‘wise’? Or does wisdom come from learned experience?
  • Is our own community formed through free will, or do we also have ‘rules’ that deliberately structure our society?
  • Can people truly not deal with differences, or do they chose to surround themselves with ‘sameness’ because they fear diversity?

The novel also looks at love, emotions, human connection, and courage, among other things.

Now, if you’ve seen the trailer for the upcoming movie, the real question seems to be in concern to how closely (or not closely) the movie will follow the book. The trailer is below for your viewing pleasure, though BEWARE OF SPOILERS if you haven’t read the book:

It seems that Jonas is no longer 12 but maybe 16, making The Giver like so many other dystopias. So of course, he is given a love interest that doesn’t exist really exist in the book. The trailer gives away so many big ‘reveals’ from the book, so it becomes obvious that the ending will not be the same.

But at the same time, the trailer is very compelling and makes me want to see it. There is obviously more action, and the romance adds a new twist to the story. The acting looks to be superb, and the cinematography is eye-catching and dramatic. And it doesn’t hurt, of course, that Brenton Thwaites is rather easy on the eyes. 😉 I will probably go to see it in theaters, and hope it does not disappoint.


The Giver is different from the average dystopian, and really made me think.

Have you read and enjoyed The Giver? Were there things about it you didn’t quite like? What do you think about the movie trailer?