Gray Wolf Island by Tracey Neithercott

Hardcover, 336 pages
Expected publication: October 10th 2017 by Knopf Books for Young Readers
Source:  Author

There are certain books you meet along the course of your reading life that reel you in and spit you out only after you have discovered all the secrets they hold within their pages. When I started reading Gray Wolf Island, I intended to read the first few pages before I went about and did some work. I emerged three hours later thrilled, teary, and wondering what just happened to me.

Don’t you love books like that?

The official synopsis:

Right before Sadie died, she begged her sister, Ruby, to do the one thing she could never do herself: Find the treasure on Gray Wolf Island.

With just a mysterious treasure map as a guide, Ruby reluctantly allows some friends to join her on the hunt, each of whom is touched by magic: a boy allegedly born to a virgin, a girl who never sleeps, a boy who can foresee his own death, and a boy with deep ties to the island. Each of them is also keeping a secret—something they’ll have to reveal in order to reach the treasure.

As the secrets come to light, Ruby will have to decide: Can she make peace with her friends’ troubled pasts and continue to trust them? Can she forgive herself for doing the unspeakable? Deep in the wilderness of Gray Wolf Island, Ruby’s choices will determine if they make it out with the treasure—or merely with their lives.

While the back copy focuses on Ruby as a primary character and her friends as side characters, the book very much reads like an ensemble novel where each character is fiercely individual and each of them have their own lives, own pulses, that beat them awake and whispering in your ear.

Ruby is interesting and I was truly sympathetic to her flight but honestly, my fave character in this novel is Charlie Kim. But wait, first things first.

Ruby’s twin sister dies and she is left with many thing and most prominent among them is the promise she made Sadie: to hunt for the rumoured treasure on Gray Wolf Island. This treasure is legend and many others before them have tried (and failed) to find it.

Ruby initially thinks that she will go look for it on her own but fate has other ideas. Her town’s three most notorious boys attach themselves to her treasure hunt as does a girl, Anne, whose larger than life grandma Ruby sometimes takes for a walk. While Ruby knows the new additions to her hunting group, she has never been particularly friendly with them.

There is Gabe who was born without a father and supposedly magical, Charlie Kim who has foreseen his own death and so gleefully lives life on the edges, Elliott who tries so hard to be a bad boy but somehow cannot repress his academic tendencies, and Anne who doesn’t sleep. Ruby, filled half with grief and half will find out, finds herself a part of this ragtag group and gets caught up in their infectious cheer and magic.

Of course this magic hides what lays in each of these characters; the demons these kids battle are not for the weak and as the story progresses and the island demands its toll, their secrets surface. The fantastic realism of this book fits the atmosphere and the primary narrative perfectly well.

Charlie Kim is my favourite character (perhaps ever); he is irrepressible and his energy is compelling. The book handles heavy themes and tackles heavy subjects with sensitivity and grace. Gray Wolf Island will make you laugh, gasp, and occasionally cry. You will read gobble it up the first time around and then savour it slowly the second time. Do yourselves a favour and grab a copy. This is one book you need to read.

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