DR. FRANKLIN’S ISLAND
Wendy Lamb Books/R. H. Children’s Books / 160 pages / May 2002
I just read this really great book about a mad scientist on a remote island doing experiments combining animals and humans. Now, you are probably raising your hand to say, “Isn’t that The Island of Dr. Moreau? Old news.” Well, no, it’s not and no, it’s not. And with Ann Halam’s name on the cover, you should know better. Or, maybe, you didn’t know that Ann Halam=Gwyneth Jones? By any other name, her fiction is going to deliver anything but the expected.
Semirah Garson thinks she is ready for the unexpected, but a structured, televised trip to Ecuador with Planet Savers is not the adventure she’s going to get. Before the painfully shy narrator has a chance to try to get comfortable with her fellow Young Conservationists, most of them are lost in a suspicious air crash. She and Miranda and Arnie find themselves trapped on a deserted island where they must deal with the elements and each other to survive.
What could make their situation worse? The island is not so deserted as they thought and the other inhabitants are extremely interested in the three survivors. The obviously unbalanced Dr. Franklin has found the perfect place to carry out his genetic research; now, he has found the perfect subjects.
Some are touting Dr. Franklin’s Island as a chilling view of the possibilities of genetic engineering. True, the experiments and the outcome are horrifying, but, at its deepest level, the novel is about the good and evil in human nature and the loss of control. Technology is not the threat, but the inhumanity in some of our fellow “civilised” beings. Seeing such sociopathic lack of empathy is enough to scare the wits out of anyone, especially when the psychos are the ones in control.
Make no mistake though, Dr. Franklin’s Island is hardly a dry dissertation on sanity, survival, and social niceties. This novel barrels out of the gates and ensnares the reader in the first chapter. The rest of the book is a tense, stomach-churning, shot of ice-water through the veins. The pace is relentless, keeping you reading until long after everyone else in the place is asleep.
Semi and her friends are characters worth caring about. Kids who don’t curl up and die at the first hint of adversity. Ones who think and plan and work together to make it through the horror, intact in body and mind and as a group. Extraordinary people, maybe, but real people, not mythical MacGuyvers who can create cold fusion with coconuts.
The suggested reading age is 14 and over, and with good reason: there are scenes of graphic violence and gory imagery. It’s nothing to ban the over — far from it, but younger kids might find it a bit intense. Not to mention you’d never get them to agree to summer camp again. And don’t let the “Children’s Books” connection fool you; a great read is great for any age and Dr. Franklin’s Island is a great, scary read, no matter when you last saw fourteen.