Bright Island
Mabel Robinson
Random House
2012 (re-issue of 1937 copy)
Newbery Honor

I really appreciate it when publishers re-issue older books. The market isn’t as wide, no doubt, for these old-fashioned favorites, but they’re worth reading and keeping in print. Bright Island is a great example; the 75th anniversary edition hits stores this month.

One of my favorite books growing up was Ruth Sawyer’s Roller Skates (another 1930’s Newbery title); Bright Island reminds me of that same type of old-fashioned fiction. It’s historical fiction now, but was written as a contemporary title. Thus, it’s a great picture into another world. In Bright Island, our heroine, one Thankful Curtis, has grown up island bound and can sail as good as anyone. She can do just about anything she puts her mind to, and has no intention of putting her mind to going to school on the mainland. Homeschooled all her life by her capable mother (of Scots descent!), Thankful does indeed end up finishing school at an elite boarding school on the mainland despite her dread.

She struggles through her shyness at school, discovers that she can finish in one year instead of two since her mother schooled her so well, and learns to navigate the social issues that often face a teenage girl (including dealing with a roommate). A little love, a little first crush, a first dance, a new friend, some harrowing trips at sea, and sickness at home pepper the second half of the book. Thankful is a strong character, grows up in realistic ways, and ends the book independent (even though there’s the strong assumption of her future life with one of the boys in her life–I won’t spoil it for you).

All in all, this is a pleasant read. I found it a touch choppy in places, and the vacillating in Thankful’s mind over her various “love interests” was a little predictable and almost forced. I think many kids today will find it boring if they’ve read primarily contemporary books. But if you know a young girl who enjoys a good old-fashioned read, check this one out! There’s definitely an audience for it, even if small.

Recommended for upper elementary and up (although there’s nothing in it to prohibit younger, strong readers from enjoying it as well!).

Thanks to netgalley for an ARC of this book (older editions may still be in libraries); cover image from goodreads.

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