The Mystery of Adventure Island
Author: Paul Moxham
This is a story, set in the fifties, about four kids who sail to an island just off the coast of England for some camping fun and end up investigating a ghostly presence. It’s written very much for the age group depicted in the story, so adults might find it a rather simplistic and unfulfilling read. it's number two in a series, and to me it felt very unrealistic, but my biggest problem with this novel was that genderism was rife in it.
I know it’s set in the fifties, so we can’t expect it to be thoroughly modern in all regards, but I don't see that setting it half a century ago gives the author blanket permission to put women in the back seat again. Yes, it if was 1943 and he's writing about a military operation behind enemy lines, then the chances are it was all men; however, this is in the fifties and it’s about kids, so why are the girls are consistently treated like they can’t take responsibility or carry heavy loads, and they are given to emotional break-downs and act like scaredy-cats? I found that obnoxious.
I know that one of them was very young (eight years old), but still, do they have to be presented in such a negative, passive light?! I realize that this book might be largely aimed at boys, but this doesn’t excuse the approach if the take-away for boys is that girls are second-rate or second best, not up to it, and in need of constant protection and direction. Any young girls who read this are going to get the same message.
The story begins with the boys and girls fixing up a small sailing boat and taking it to an island about three hours sailing up the coast from where they live. The problem is that this is the fifties and they're a mixed-gender group going on a camping trip, unsupervised by any adult. This struck me as odd for the era; it’s especially odd in that, given this amazingly liberal attitude towards norms and propriety for that time, we see a strongly contrasting conservative approach in how the girls are treated.
The boys are making all the decisions, they're rowing the boat, they’re unloading the boat while the girls are sent off to scout for a camping site. The girls are the ones shown to be scared of the ghost while the boys are all macho. The girls want to leave while the boys want to find out the truth about the ghost. It's not just the girls, either: at one point mom acknowledges her subservient place to dad in a grammatically odd statement:
Their mother smiled. “If you’re happy, then I’m too..."
I just found this to be painful to read and the mystery to be very simplistic with little motivation or rational for the children's actions. It’s obvious it's not a ghost, which means the kids could be in real danger. This is not some fictional supernatural nonsense, but a real person who wants them off the island. He could be a smuggler or a psycho. Neither one of those is likely to be very friendly towards - or considerate of - the kids, yet not a one of them ever voices any concern for what could be a very real threat to their own safety. This doesn’t impress me with their smarts.
They pass up the chance they have to sail away, and they merely row around the island from their initial camp site to secrete their boat in a small cave, before venturing back ashore to try to find out who this guy is. Maybe he's just a lonely guy who built the now ruined church and tried unsuccessfully to start a community on the island, but these kids don’t know that, and it’s really none of their business why he's there - and he's not alone. The kids discover another two guys and later a young woman arrives. This supposedly deserted island is positively crowded by this point!
Here’s another oddball piece of writing:
Will, who was now carrying the binoculars, peered through them. “It’s a rowboat. I can see one person in it.”
“Why would a person come to this island alone?” Joe wondered
Seriously? This is a huge mystery?!
This is part of a series of stand-alone books about these kids, so you don't have to have read previous volumes to enjoy this - if it’s your cup of tea that is - and because of that, I am doubtlessly missing some history from earlier volumes. Maybe one or more of the kids are children of cops and so have some sort of motivation from that, but that possibility aside, rational and compelling motivations - unless you count merely being meddlesome and tiresome - were not in evidence in this volume.
I lost interest in it pretty quickly. The writing is pedestrian at best, with nothing really Earth-moving going on. Maybe undiscriminating children in the middle-grade age range will enjoy it, and if so, good luck to them in finding a series that they can read, but nothing here made me think that my own kids would be interested, and I can’t recommend it based on what I read.