Dobkin, Bonnie. Neptune’s Children. New York, NY: Walker Books for Young Readers, 2008.
A day at the fabled amusement park Isles of Wonder turns deadly when a world-wide biological attack kills every adult, leaving behind only the kids to fend for themselves. Isolated from the world, unsure of what lies ahead, the young survivors assemble under the statue of King Neptune, the mythical ruler of the Isles, to form a new society. Led by the children of the park workers, they choose to remain closed off from the outside world living relatively comfortably inside the self-contained park. But when violence from the infested outside world appears to infiltrate their safe zone, one small group discovers a secret society and a hidden system of underground tunnels, and the stage is set for a war that will determine the future of everyone on the Isles.
As alliances are formed and broken, readers will find themselves taking sides in this suspenseful adventure story that addresses the duality of human nature.
As a big fan of an Australian TV show called The Tribe (1999-2003), the familiar concept of this book drew me in. In a world where biological warfare has somehow managed to kill off every adult (in this book, everyone older than about 12 or 13 is dead), about 2,000 kids are left in a Disney-like amusement park to create a new world order. It could become every man for himself, but a group of kids gets together to start organizing. There is enough food to last at least 6 months, with proper rationing, and there are fish and gardens to help maintain life after that. Life seems perfect… until those with the power start to get a little too power-mad.
Dobkin herself, on her myspace page (does anyone use that anymore?), has called this book, “Lord of the Flies meets Animal Farm meets Mickey Mouse.” I have never read Lord of the Flies, though I know the general idea of the plot, and I have to say that I totally agree. This book started off a bit slow, but that’s understandable. You have to build a world before you can destroy it, and in this case the world is not like the current one. There was a lot of foreshadowing, and some things I could easily predict happening, but I think much of that comes from having read a lot and studying the craft of writing. Reading exactly how things played out was still fun for me. Plus it was written for young teens (I’d say grades 7-9), so predictability is definitely a forgivable offense.
Once I got to just about 2/3 through the novel, the story and pacing picked up considerably. While it took about ten days to get through the first half of the book (I was doing other things, but it still didn’t quite hold my interest), I read the last third in less than 3 hours. I just could not put it down. And while the beginning was slow, it did have enough foreshadowing to keep me interested in getting to the inevitably explosive ending.
Warning: Content is best suited to teens and adults. The concept might appeal to younger kids, and I am not one for censoring for censorship’s sake. But here are a few things to be careful of before giving this book to a child (there are others, this is just a taste).
- There is allusion to burning the dead bodies of the adults. Care is given to the sensitivity of the matter, and some of the kids argue whether it is right, or if burial would be better. But ultimately they decide that cremation is best to prevent spreading whatever plague killed the adults.
- Some babies die (off-screen, so to speak) early on, as the kids don’t know how to properly care for them.
- About halfway through the book, there are mentions of characters pairing off, and some of the girls needing bigger clothes for expanding waistlines. Some time later there is mention that there will soon be more babies.
- At the end there is, of course, a major battle between the “good” kids and the “bad” kids. There are injuries, and more implied deaths.
*END OF SPOILERS*
Overall, I really enjoyed this book. Some of the slowness at the beginning was just what I was going through in my life, not having anything to do with the story. I liked the characterizations, with a wide range of characters each with distinct personalities. I liked that there was a map in the front of the book that I could refer to as Dobkin talked of each section of the theme park. I loved that it’s very much dystopian fiction for young teens: I can see the kids who enjoy this book growing up to read The Hunger Games.