Review: Island of Lost Girls by Jennifer McMahon

This book. Where to start? I started reading Island of Lost Girls the evening of December 25th after working on my Self Journal. All these weeks of being unable to immerse myself in a novel start to finish had to come to an end. No waiting until the New Year. No more trying to find a place in my schedule. It was now or never. Sit down and read a book already! I'd already DNF'd John Irving's Prayer for Owen Meany and JD Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye. The former was sooooo good but sooooo long and I just couldn't continue. Multiple attempts were total failures. Maybe I'll try again later. Maybe I'll forgive and forget. The Catcher in the Rye? I think I made it through four chapters but couldn't get past the swearing. An occasional swear in a novel, fine. Whatever. Characters are unruly, I get it. But every other word? All the time? Nah. Not for me. Done and don't regret it.

So, last night, I went back to my TBR pile, which, to be honest, isn't even that big. I was content to set myself up for a modicum of success. Island of the Lost Girls has a lot going for it. Short (255 pages), intriguing cover (What's with the frog?), and mysterious story line. This is the second line from the blurb on the back cover:

"She (Rhonda) watches, unmoving, as someone dressed in a rabbit costume kidnaps a young girl."

I'm not even going to lie. The first fifteen pages or so were not an easy read. Maybe the challenge stemmed from my inability to turn off the productive part of my brain that insists on doing something all the time. But, I was easily confused by the number of characters that were introduced at breakneck speed. Suzy, Rhonda, Suzy's parents, Lizzy, Peter (both the real Peter and some Peter Rabbit version of a Peter), Suzy's nana, Pat, Jim (Pat's husband), Trudy, the cop, Ernie, Tock, Laura Lee (who might have been Suzy's was hard to tell). I could go on.

It was frustrating and hard to follow to say the least.

However, I was really intrigued by the premise of the story and McMahon has a way of painting a picture. Plus, I was determined to finish a book--any book. I focused on the main character (Rhonda) and hoped I wouldn't get too confused in the process.

The book alternates between 2006 when Rhonda witnessed the kidnapping and 1993, a particularly interesting summer in Rhonda's youth when life was all about her unrequited crush on a boy, her best friend whose behavior changes, and some mysterious adult problems that occur between Rhonda's parents and her best friend's parents. Both time periods are inexplicably intertwined and Rhonda's left to sort them both out while trying to help solve the mystery of little Ernie's kidnapping. This particular passage on page 93 stood out to me.

"I think we should kick her ass," said Lizzy. She was perched on the roof of the car, waving her coat hanger hook through the air, wooden sword drawn. She had on black satin pants tucked into an old pair of her father's motorcycle boots. They were way too big for her feet, so she wore them with lots of pairs of socks. She had a ruffled white shirt with a wide lapel and an old red velvet jacket that she'd sewn some gold trim to. On her head was the big splurge, an actual pirate hat from the costume shop up in Burlington."

This attention to detail kept me reading, even when I wasn't a hundred percent sure who was doing what to whom. The description was accurate for a young high school girl playing dress up with her friends in the early '90s who were intent in putting on a backwoods community theater production.

McMahon surprised me with the twists and turns of the story and how eloquently she brought everything to a close during the last few chapters. The ending was neat without being too tidy. It's a mystery that's well done overall. I would have preferred a less busy cast of characters or at least a slower or different introduction to all of them as they were all relevant in their own way.

Have you read Island of Lost Girls? Or McMahon's other novel, Promise Not to Tell? If so, what did you think of it/them? Drop a comment and let me know. I'd love to hear your thoughts.

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