The best books about girls on islands

Jenny Hubbard Author Of And We Stay
By Jenny Hubbard

Who am I?

Good question. I’ve always found equilibrium in quiet, unpopulated spaces—woods, gardens, and, of course, books. Now, at 56, even though I am happily married and close to friends and family I love, I seek the solitude that nurtured me in childhood. I wonder why. Did the pandemic nudge me to embrace my most essential self? This is why I chose the theme “Girls on Islands” because even if it’s not our natural state, don’t we all experience isolation? Yet, as John Donne reminds us, no girl is an island; she is “a piece of the continent, a part of the main.” The following works of fiction embody this duality.

I wrote...

And We Stay

By Jenny Hubbard,

Book cover of And We Stay

What is my book about?

It’s about a seventeen-year-old girl on a metaphorical island: a girls’ boarding school far from home, where she’s sent mid-year after her boyfriend’s suicide. At first Emily Beam selects her own society, but not until she opens the door to her roommate, a favorite teacher, and the poems of Emily Dickinson does she reckon with her past.

The books I picked & why

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By Lily King,

Book cover of Euphoria

Why this book?

The “girl” in this novel is a young anthropologist (inspired by the real-life Margaret Mead), and the island is New Guinea, 1933. King, a writer’s writer, has crafted a complex page-turner that’s as tight as a drum. It’s a stunner, down to the final perfect sentence, which knocked the breath out of me. I don’t think I’ve read a book in the past five years that compares craft-wise.

Orphan Island

By Laurel Snyder,

Book cover of Orphan Island

Why this book?

Long-listed for the National Book Award in 2017, this fable may have been written for kids, but it has haunted me for four years. A green wooden boat delivers one child per year to a magical, adult-free island. But the boat does not depart empty; an older child must climb aboard. This elegant allegory invites readers of any age to contemplate what childhood is and what it means to have to leave it behind.

The Carnival at Bray

By Jessie Ann Foley,

Book cover of The Carnival at Bray

Why this book?

This Printz Honor and Morris Award winner sails us straight into the soul of sixteen-year-old Maggie, who is uprooted from Chicago by her mother and mother’s boyfriend and replanted in a small town on the Irish coast. Foley writes with an authentic, intelligent voice (always), and I love that she populates this novel with flawed adult characters who play integral roles in Maggie’s blossoming.

This One Summer

By Mariko Tamaki, Jillian Tamaki (illustrator),

Book cover of This One Summer

Why this book?

The Tamakis, who are cousins, collaborated on this Caldecott and Printz Honor winner about a long-time summer friendship between two girls (and two families) that takes a dark turn. Though the setting is lakeside, the island is that lonely, mysterious territory between childhood and adulthood. After I finished it, I recommended it to everyone I knew who had never read a graphic novel before.

Island of the Blue Dolphins

By Scott O’Dell,

Book cover of Island of the Blue Dolphins

Why this book?

This gem of historical fiction that won the Newbery Medal sixty years ago tells the story of a Native American girl who survived alone on an island for eighteen years (St. Nicholas Island, 75 miles off the coast of California). O’Dell focuses on the year that Karana is twelve, who tells her own story in unadorned, affecting prose.

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