An Inconvenient Truth

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Reviewed by Elizabeth Hand
Sunday, September 28, 2008

The Other Side of the Island

By Allegra Goodman

Razorbill. 280 pp. $16.99

Allegra Goodman alludes to a number of children's classics in The Other Side of the Island, including Bridge to Terabithia, The Wizard of Oz and The Secret Garden. It's a risky ploy, inviting comparison to beloved books. But in Goodman's case, it pays off, as this gripping, beautifully written novel may one day join their ranks. A dystopian page-turner, The Other Side of the Island evokes other YA favorites -- in particular, Lois Lowry's The Giver-- books that use well-worn tropes of science fiction and coming-of-age tales to confront adult issues such as authoritarian governments and global warming.

Honor Greenspoon, the young heroine, is 10 when the book opens, sometime in a not-too-distant future. Climate change has devastated our planet. Ninety percent of the population has died in a mega-catastrophe known as the Flood, the continents erased by monstrous tsunamis and rising sea levels. Now, eight years later, the Flood's survivors live on hundreds of scattered islands where reproduction is regulated, recycling is as natural as breathing, and all reading material is censored.

Honor, born in a year when all children's names begin with H, has recently been relocated with her parents to an island in the Tranquil Sea. The family had previously lived as nomads in the Northern Islands, where Honor saw snow and, once, a polar bear. When she mentions this on her first day of school, her teacher's response is frightening:

"Mrs. Whyte looked so severe that Honor's heart began pounding.

" 'We do not lie in this classroom,' said Mrs. Whyte. 'We do not exaggerate or tell untruths, ever. . . . The Polar Seas and Northern Islands are Enclosed. What does that mean?'

" 'They're Safe,' said Hiroko.

" 'Secure,' said Hildegard.

" 'They have a ceiling,' said Hortense, tossing her blond hair with some importance.

" 'Yes, they are ceiled,' said Mrs. Whyte, smiling, 'and because of that, they are enjoying what we call. . . '

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