Damselfly

by Chandra Prasad

In this case, I knew from the start the book was a retelling of sorts. Lord of the Flies, set in today’s eara, mostly girls from a private high school (and a few boys). They’re a team of fencers who were travelling on a private plane that crashed on an island and yes, the pilot died. Some of the kids die in the beginning too. And things only go downhill from there. Quite a few of them have remarkable skills and abilities- one had a mother with a greenhouse so knows all about useful plants, another had an aunt who used a loom, so she knows how to weave, and so on. There’s a lot of parallels to Lord of the Flies– from the pink rocks and iconic conch shell to a torn parachute in tree branches. And the dissolution of social norms. Interestingly, this story shows racism from another side- the dark-skinned Indian girls quickly set themselves up as superior- better able to adapt, avoiding sunburn. They try to set up rules and organize themselves for survival and hopefully, eventual rescue, but it falls apart before too long. Bad things happen, horrific injuries, betrayals. One girl struggles with mental illness- not having access to medication- and the others pretty much ignore her plight. Another is constantly ruminating on the family she left behind (including a sister who had an eating disorder). Some of them want to plan an escape, but then others realize maybe they don’t want to leave this brutal paradise where there are no adults, they can just do what they want . . . So much crammed in here. The island also has every little thing you’d imagine in an exotic survival story- secret trysts, poison frogs, a tar pit, a bird species thought to be long-extinct, an unseen menacing enemy who wants them to leave. The story moves at a quick pace- a bit too quick for me. I was intrigued by all its parts, but on the whole found myself oddly disinterested. Maybe because most of the characters felt rather flat- even the ones I thought I ought to sympathize with or like, I couldn’t find much feeling for. Maybe because the writing style and dialog felt a bit simplistic, the girls’ various skills a bit too convenient, the jibing and social vying for control a bit too juvenile, or predictable. So many interesting ideas but not quite all I’d expected.

Rating: 3/5
260 pages, 2018

2 Responses

  1. Too bad about the characters being flat, because retellings of Lord of the Flies are probably my favorite retellings. Or would be, I haven’t found one I’ve liked yet.

    I’d believe “skills a bit too convenient”, my eyebrows went up when I read the aunt uses a loom…

    1. Yeah, exactly. It actually has a connection to Lord of the Flies that’s more than just a retelling- which was an unexpected detail I really liked, but then it wasn’t built on much. And the skills thing- I have to say, I’m a gardener but my kids and husband haven’t absorbed that knowledge- I think it’s only if you were really involved together as a family that would be the case. And it didn’t come across like that in this story. Kids can be totally disinterested in their parents’ passions!

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