Thursday, June 15, 2023

Nightmare Island

Bourne, Shakirah. Nightmare Island
June 6, 2023 by Scholastic
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Serenity has been plagued by the same dream for years; she is in a hospital corridor and bad things happen. To deal with this, rather than tell her parents, she heeds the advice of a kung fu movie that "avoiding fear increases the fear itself" and has become obsessed with making scary movies that will scare away her nightmare. She has roped her younger brother Peace into helping with the music and artwork on these, so regularly immerses him in her world of zombies, haunted houses, and gore. When Peace starts to have nightmares that just won't stop, her parents blame her and decide to take a vacation to Duppy Island alone with Peace, and leave Serenity at her grandmother's house. Serenity has long felt that her yoga loving mother and quiet father prefer Peace to her because he rarely screams and causes problems the way that Serenity does. She decides it's a good plan to run away from her grandmother's house, stow away on the boat, and follow her family to the island. When she gets there, she finds a weird world were Dr. Whisper is working with a variety of children, including Peace. Jacob's father works on the island, and he befriends Serenity and helps her get answers. There are a lot that are needed. She's told her parents are somewhere else, but she finds their suitcases. Peace treats her very oddly. Not only that, but there are the duppies themselves. Serenity has looked up what these creatures are, and her desire to create a film about them is one of the reasons that she has followed her family to the island, especially when she found out that the island housed a sanitarium where people were exiled in the 1850s when they had cholera. Meeting some of these spirits from the Caribbean islands is both frightening and the answer to her dreams. There's clearly a lot going on with her parents and Dr. Whisper, but I don't want to spoil all of the twists and turns.
Strengths: There is a lot of interesting Black history in the background of the story; the parents have bought a plantation house to reclaim some of the narrative, and the father finds some family connections with one of the spirits on the island. Serenity has a good process for filming her horror stories, and is constantly thinking in terms of background music for scenes, which gets her in trouble at one point. Younger brothers being possessed by demons (in Ellen Oh's Spirit Hunters) or other spirits always seem plausible to me, although I wouldn't have been as motivated to find the solution to this as Serenity was. There's plenty of creepiness, spooky forests, and duppies with no faces and backwards feet! Love the cover.
Weaknesses: A lot of my readers like shorter books, so at 304 pages, this is a bit on the long side. Some of the backstory of the island or Peace's existence could have been tightened up.
What I really think: This is a good choice for readers who enjoyed this author's Josephine Against the Sea, Baptiste's The Jumbies, Stringfellow's Comb of Wishes, and Smith's HooDoo or especially Strong's Eden's Everdark.

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