The novel is set in the Pacific Islands, a location well known to Beth as she has worked as a teacher there and is married to a Solomon Islander. She not only captures the variety of natural settings on the page, but also the modern Islander society and the tension between the poor local population and the tourism they are dependent upon.
Her main characters are also very well defined. Hector and Lily are struggling to find a future in a world of parental neglect, poverty and boredom. Their family lives are equally as important to the story as the adventure. By making the two characters friends rather than siblings, Beth is able to provide a broader spectrum of daily Islander existence.
Hector and Lily’s adventure is linked to the past by the parallel story of two young lovers during the time of Japanese occupation. Tepu is forced to work for the Japanese to construct an airfield and keep it in repair in spite of the frequent bombings. Like Japanese prisoners everywhere, each day is a struggle to survive. Edouwe manages to stay on the Island in order to care for her grandparents who have been confined to the leper colony for many years.
The adventure begins when Hector and Lily find a Japanese sword, a relic from the war. After Lily hides it away at home, she starts to experience dreams of a angry Japanese soldier. The plot of the novel involves solving the mystery of the sword and resolving the crimes of the past.
Although the cover of the book promotes it as a rollicking adventure story, I feel it has far more in common with Parvana and Secrets in the Fire than Alex Rider.
The structure of the book is also a little disconcerting. Tepu’s story of the war opens each chapter, and then suddenly the story moves to Hector and Lily’s modern tale. Since the two stories don’t link until the very end of the book, I feel that they might be better told as separate chapters. If this series is intended, as many are today, for reluctant readers, my experience has shown that shorter chapters are better.
I also feel Beth as included a lot of unnecessary gimmicks in her story. The birthmark is totally irrelevant, serving only to set Lily apart as different, and therefore she must be psychic. The American girl, Christine, who gets involved with Hector and Lily’s adventure plays no significant part in the plot and her relationship with the Islander children strains the credibility of the novel.
Don’t get me wrong. I will be happy to put this book on the shelf in the library. It will add to the range of fiction I suggest to middle school girls who are looking to read something modern about life in other countries. But I won’t be promoting it as one of the 10 best books I have read this year.