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It all began with my mother changing her mind. At the time I was glad that no grown-ups, except Layla Campbell, were coming. Jas and I adored Layla Campbell. We’d met her only three times, but we knew that she was special, mysterious. She had taken over as our cadet leader from Mrs. O’Hanlon, who retired or went home or something.
Layla had this halo of curly red hair and wore lots of black smudgy eye makeup, which made her eyes glisten as if she were on the verge of tears. She held a cigarette like Lauren Bacall in the movies, and had this big sad mouth. Jas and I called her the Duchess, because of her posh Edinburgh accent.
We tried to walk like her, stole cigarettes from our mothers and choked trying to smoke like her. So we couldn’t have been happier that she was to lead our camp.
But I’m going too fast. I’ll start at the beginning. I remember when my journal was new and pristine, with clean white pages and a sky-blue hardback cover. Now it looks the way I feel—dirty, battered, torn, ripped, shattered, falling apart.
My journal takes me back to the Forbidden Island, and it’s all happening again….
JOURNAL OF BONNIE MACDONALD
MAY 11, 1974
Hooray! Tomorrow the Amelia Earhart Cadets go to the island with Layla Campbell.
Senior Amelia Earhart Cadets:
May and Arlene (the “Glossies”)
Waterproof holder for journal (v. important)
Flashlight (take lots of spare batteries)
Book? Ask Mom for recommendation
Swiss Army knife
Change of clothes
Toothbrush and misc. toiletries
Finally, we’re off. The rain is bucketing down, the roads are flooded, and you can hardly see through the windshield because there aren’t any wipers, so the Duchess hangs out the window and mops it with her tie-dyed scarf so the driver can navigate. She asks me to hold on to her legs so she doesn’t fall out. She has these really long legs. Jas and I are laughing like mad.
The road disappears completely at one point and you can’t tell where the ditches and fields begin. We’re making a wake like a motorboat. People are wading through water to get home, their belongings in bundles on their heads. Only the gentle-faced water buffalo look unfazed. They’re in their element.
I glimpse through a gap in the flowering frangipani trees a girl of about my age, her heart-shaped face made up like a woman’s, with scarlet lip color, black eye shadow, and powdered cheeks. Her black hair, decorated with red and orange flowers, is like a waterfall to her tiny waist. She stands on a balcony and looks as if she is waiting for someone to press a button so her life can begin.
Bar girls and their scrawny-legged bosses squat on tables and look bored; Buddhist monks in orange robes hold umbrellas over their shaved heads; and confused stray dogs swim around looking for a place to stand and bark at the suddenly wet world.
Inside the bus the juniors are shrieking and whooping every time the water gets really deep outside. There are stranded vehicles all over the place.
In the back of the bus, between bumps and careering, May is attempting to apply mascara to Arlene’s eyelashes. They both turned up wearing no makeup but they have transformed themselves from senior cadets into femmes fatales in a matter of minutes, with bright pink lipstick and blue eye shadow. Arlene shrieks—a lump of mascara in her eye.
“Spider-eyes! You look like you’ve got spiders around your eyes!” May hitches up her tube top and laughs.
Jas rolls her eyes at me.
Jody, Carly, and Sandy are staring out the windows, clutching their teddy bears. It’s their first camping trip. Carly and Sandy are the only ones wearing cadet uniforms—khaki skirt and shirt, with a red neckerchief. Natalie is huddled in the corner looking anxious.
“Don’t worry, Nat, we’ll survive,” I tell her, and she smiles faintly through her frown and carries on sucking the satin edge of her rag.
Sandy is the smallest girl, with pale hair and skin and skinny limbs. She looks as if she’d float away if you blew on her. Jas pulls her onto her lap so she doesn’t get too bumped around on the bad roads.
When the bus finally arrives at the wooden pier, we older ones help the little girls onto the boat, amid lots of screeches and giggles.
“Why won’t the stupid boat keep still?” May demands. The boatman tries to hold it steady as the lively waves drag it in and out.
By the time we’re all settled on the boat, the sun has come out, but it’s a rough trip and nearly everyone is sick. Not me, though.
Hope manages to vomit into the wind and gets it all over her orange sweatshirt.
“Are we there yet?” Sandy moans. She is as green as the praying mantis I found in my bedroom last week, or one of the snakes the Thai boys torture on the compound.
Waves come over the bow and the sides and soak us all. Even the juniors’ teddy bears are sodden.
An hour’s boat trip is about as much as I can take at the best of times. The secret is to keep your eyes on the horizon so your brain can make sense of what is happening to your body. Dad told me that. He used to vomit in his helmet when he first started flying. Now he flies Phantom F-4s. He’s in the Special Air Service Regiment, deployed as an instructor to the United States Air Force front-line base at Utapao, an hour’s drive away from our home compound at Amnuythip.
We’ve been in Thailand for two years. We don’t see much of him—he mostly has to stay on the base—and when we do see him he looks very tired, with dark bags under his eyes, and his wavy brown hair has gone completely gray. But he’s still handsome. These days he has a very short fuse, and I mostly stay out of his way. Mom says that’s wisest. Dad thinks the war will be over in less than a year. We’ll go back to Scotland then.
It’ll be great seeing Grandpa and Grandma again, but it will be hard leaving my friends here, and I do love Thai food, especially sticky rice. There’s a little beach bar at Amnuythip where they have the best sticky rice ever. We have parties there sometimes when Dad and the other fathers are home. The Buddhist bar owner was a monk for many years and he’s covered in tiny tattoos, mostly words, like a newspaper of flesh. He and his wife cook chicken, pork, prawns, stalked barnacles, clams, lobster, and rice-stick noodles with all sorts of herbs and spices—ginger, coriander, lemongrass, and galangal. They were childhood sweethearts and lost touch with each other for years, but met again when she was a widow with five children. Mom thinks that’s so romantic.
There’s a tiny part of me that wishes Mom were here. Mrs. Campbell smiles and hugs the little ones, but I can tell that she’s worried. The boat bumps and shudders on the waves.
We’re nearing the island when the outboard motor stutters and stops.
“Are we out of fuel?”
The boatman, who looks about a hundred years old, can’t get the motor started. He wears a black patch over one eye, like a pirate.
“Isn’t that where we are supposed to be going, Mrs. Campbell? I think we’ve gone too far.” I point to the landing place we came to last time we camped.
The sea sweeps us quickly past the island, and we seem to be drifting fast. The current is really strong.
“I’m sure the boatman knows what he’s doing, Bonnie.”
We watch him doing things to the outboard motor, but it still won’t start. We’ve gone way past our little island, and lots of others, too. They rise like big lush anthills straight out of the water. The boatman hauls up a small canvas sail and mutters something. I don’t know what he’s saying but the Duchess translates.
Rather than tack back against the wind and current to our island, which will take hours, she explains, he’s taking us to another, which is much bigger than the one we had planned to camp on, but has a landing place and freshwater, he says. Or that’s what Mrs. Campbell thinks he says. Is her Thai really that good? I’m impressed. But the others are appalled.
“There are over fifty islands in this archipelago,” shouts Mrs. Campbell between screams and groans.
“I don’t care where we stop, as long as it’s soon,” I tell Jas. She nods wearily and we huddle closer together. Waves crash over us and the boat is nearly overturned a couple of times. We use our hands to bail the water out.
“Where are the life jackets? No life jackets? No, of course not. Why did I ever say yes to this stupid trip?” Arlene says.
“Shut up, Spider-eyes! Will you just shut up?” May answers.
The Glossies (Jas and I thought of that name; they spend most of their time dressing up like they’re going to be photographed for a magazine, messing with their hair and plastering their stupid faces with too much makeup) squabble at the best of times. And this is not the best of times.
We are getting very close to a reef. Waves build up into breaking surf and our boatman steers carefully toward a gap between two exposed rocks and coral heads. As the boat reaches the gap it is raised high on a wave and we are swept into a lagoon.
There is a thin stretch of sand and, on the right, black rocks reaching out into the sea, like a natural harbor, except that as we get closer we can see that waves are surging between the rocks, making it dangerous to get too close.
Another wave surfs us in to land safely on a steeply sloping beach. As quickly as we can, we lift the little girls over the side and help Mrs. Campbell unload the tents and bags and boxes of provisions. She gives me her guitar to carry. “Take care of it, Bonnie; it’s very precious to me.”
“Sure will, Mrs. Campbell.” My heart leaps. She has chosen me to be responsible for her beloved instrument. This is going to be so great.
“Oh, solid land!” Arlene sinks to her knees and kisses the sand. Then she splutters and spits. I notice that she hangs back while the rest of us get on with organizing things. Probably doesn’t want to ruin her nails!
Jas, Hope, and I run back and forth, carrying the backpacks and provisions. The water swirls around us and the boat twists in the restless waters.
For some reason the boatman won’t set foot on the island. Mrs. Campbell tries to get him to help unload the crates of bottled water, but he shakes his head, yelling, “Yaksha! Yaksha! Koh Tabu!” and keeps pointing back to the mainland.
It takes all our strength to pull the crates ashore. Mrs. Campbell gets the others to help shove the boat off the beach, and the boatman doesn’t even wave as he turns back toward the sea. He gives up trying to get the outboard going and sails now for the mainland, after a difficult launch over the surf. We won’t see him again until he picks us up in three days.
“What was he saying, Mrs. Campbell?”
“Nothing, Bonnie. A silly taboo. The locals don’t come here if they can help it.”
“Why don’t they?”
“He didn’t say. It’s only superstition, whatever it is.”
“I think it’s something to do with Hindu gods, isn’t it? A temple guardian?” says Jas.
“Giant. A mythical giant,” murmurs Mrs. Campbell.
I feel as if we are still rising and plunging on the waves and eventually have to sit down while my head settles.
“I’m going to explore,” May announces.
“No, not yet, May. We need to set up camp first. Then you can search for wood for a campfire.” Mrs. Campbell slaps May’s bottom with the flat of her hand and May shrieks, laughing. Everyone smiles, relieved to be together and safe.
It’s paradise, no adults to spoil things. I don’t count the Duchess as an adult. She’s fun. I look around, making mental notes for my journal. There are wispy casuarinas and tall coconut palms at the top of the beach, and green jungle rising steeply in a backdrop. The pale strip of beach is nearly covered by water, and there’s all sorts of flotsam and jetsam on the tide line. Treasures to take home and to write about in my journal.
Most of us want to pitch camp under a banyan tree, beneath its spreading branches. But Jas insists it is bad luck to sleep under a banyan—something about ghosts and demons living in the branches. So we end up choosing a clear space near the tree, above the high-tide mark.
It’s hard work pitching our tent, but great fun. The wind keeps whipping it away from us, and Jas and I laugh hysterically, almost wetting ourselves. I’m glad Jas is with me and also pleased Mom didn’t come now. She would have complained about the primitive sleeping arrangements and refused to use the toilet, which we seniors have dug well away from the camp.
We drape nets over our sleeping bags, though it must be too windy for mosquitoes. I can save my mosquito coil for another night. I love the way the burnt embers look like a dead, dried-out, curled-up snake in the morning.
The Duchess unpacks our Thai cooker—a simple barbecue with a lid on it—places the charcoal inside, and lights it now so it will be good and hot for cooking our supper.
“Now you can look for firewood, but don’t stray far from the beach, please, and keep an eye on the wee girls.”
She means the juniors. In Amelia Earhart Cadets we have seniors (fourteen to seventeen years old) and junior members (between nine and thirteen years old). You can become a chief cadet if you pass ten tests with credit. I have passed only five so far: First Aid; Knots; Woodwork; Swimming; and Navigation. I haven’t been a cadet for very long. The only chief cadet among us is Jas, who, like me, is fourteen. She’s good at everything, but you can’t be jealous or cross about it because she’s so sweet. She’s the sort of girl who would give you her last piece of chocolate, she doesn’t gossip, and she can keep a secret. That’s rare.
We all walk along the narrow strip of white sand, gathering shells and driftwood. There are striped tiger cowries and fragments of oyster, cone shells, and pink tellins, like a baby’s fingernails. We don’t get these on the beach at Amnuythip. There’s nothing on the sand there apart from filter tips and prawn shells.
The wind drives fine grains of sand into our eyes and forces the waves far up the beach, sending spume flying like soapsuds through the air. Still, I find so many lovely shells I can’t carry them all. And there’s plenty of driftwood, and huge chunks of chestnut-colored kelp dragged up from the deep. We end up with quite a pile of wood to keep the fire going and Mrs. Campbell is delighted.
“We’ve brought plenty of charcoal,” she says, “but there’s nothing quite like a wood fire.”
She says we should map the island while we’re here and invent names for the beaches and landmarks. That’s our only task apart from keeping a journal, which I do anyway. I write all sorts of things in my journal—like love poems to Lan Kua, which I’ve never shown him, of course. Lan Kua says I am Pee Prai—a beautiful woman spirit who entices men to fall in love with her. He’s such a charmer, and I am not a flirt. He’s sixteen and drop-dead gorgeous—a typical Thai youth, with short, glossy black hair. And he’s got a great body—slim and muscled, no taller than I am. I also sketch in my journal, and stick found things into it, like interesting matchbox covers, leaves and flowers, Thai labels, feathers and photographs, stuff from magazines that I don’t want to lose, and other poems that I write that are fit to be seen by the general public—unlike the love poems.
We explore the beach, which I have named Landing Place. At one point there’s no sand, only jagged rocks that rise to a peak about fifty feet high, so we have to clamber over those at sea level. I’ve named that Dragon Point, because that’s what it looks like, the tail pointing into the sea, the large head facing inland. Hope points out a shallow cave looking over the tail. She has to shout above the noise of the wind. We cover only a tiny part of the island’s circumference, but we’ll do more tomorrow. It’s much bigger than the island we were supposed to have camped on. But this one is definitely more interesting. And, I wonder, if it has freshwater, why isn’t it inhabited? That’s the kind of thing my dad would think about if he were here.
“This island’s so beautiful. Why do you think no one lives here?” I ask Jas.
“It’s probably just superstition. The ‘forbidden island,’ the boatman said.”
“I suppose.” We head back toward the camp.
The little kids are paddling, darting in and out of the swooshing waves as they run up the steep beach. I sit down to watch the tiny bubble crabs organize grains of sand into balls. I could watch them forever. Ghost crabs run toward the sea and get swept back by waves. Seabirds scream and whirl in the wind.
Sandy calls in a high-pitched voice, “Hi, Bonnie, aren’t you coming in?” She looks like lots of white-skinned kids who live in the tropics—pale, with dark bags under her eyes. There’s no sun, just low gray clouds, so she won’t burn anyway. Mom says I’m lucky. My skin tans easily, and I love the heat and sun.
“Don’t swim here, guys, it looks like there’s a rip.” I have learned to read the sea from my grandfather in Scotland. He’s a good fisherman. I’m not much good, but he says he’s going to teach me one day, when we go back to live nearby.
“A rip?” shouts Arlene. “What’s that?”
“It’s a very dangerous current. It’ll sweep you out to sea. Don’t go too far,” I call. But they are too scared to come to harm, which is good.
They screech with excitement as each wave threatens to grab them by the ankles and carry them off.
“You are such a know-it-all, Bonnie MacDonald.” Arlene sticks out her tongue. I ignore her. I know what I’m talking about.
“And you are such a know-nothing, Arlene Spider-eyes,” shouts May. Arlene hurls herself at May, who shrieks, splashing and laughing.
Huge dark clouds growl, and for a moment the sea looks as if it will engulf us all. Colors are somehow brighter, more vivid, held in by the strange thick ceiling of green-gray. It’s wonderful sitting here, watching; I feel so alive. Here we are on our very own desert island: nine of us, and Layla Campbell. It’s like the best adventure we could possibly have.
May, Arlene, and Hope go fishing in a large rocky pool near the shore with a fishing net taped on the end of a bamboo pole and a handheld fishing line. Or rather, Hope fishes and the Glossies sit and watch and make stupid comments. Hope falls in up to her shoulders, which means the water is pretty deep given how tall she is, and loses a flip-flop and her glasses. They spend more time fishing for her glasses than for anything edible but bring back some little silver fish, which we’ll cook later.
The juniors have claimed their own private playground under the banyan. The hundreds of roots growing down from branches act as props and form arches and passageways, and the girls run in and out of them and swing from them. They’re having the time of their lives.
Jas says banyans are sacred to Hindus and Buddhists and represent eternal life.
“I thought you said there are bad spirits in them,” I say to her.
Jas shrugs. “There are good and bad spirits everywhere.” She’s very knowledgeable about Thailand. Her mother runs a “Get to Know the Locals” group and she invites people to come talk to them about Hindu and Buddhist customs. I get all my local knowledge from Lan Kua, who has made it his job to educate me. He teaches me how to curse in Thai, and when I do he screams with laughter and does handstands on the balcony rails of our house. He’s good fun. Dad doesn’t approve of him.
Mrs. Campbell has been working hard and as the light fades we eat hamburgers with buns, and Hope’s delicious little fish. Then we toast marshmallows and sing songs around our campfire, red sparks flying into the black sky like fireflies. Mrs. Campbell pulls out her guitar and plucks the strings. She looks every bit the Duchess and Jas and I smile at each other, knowing we’re both thinking the same thing.
“What’s that tune?”
Don’t care if it rains or freezes,
long as I got my plastic Jesus…
“Oh, yeah, Cool Hand Luke. I lurv Paul Newman.”
“Yeah, those gorgeous blue eyes.” May flutters her eyelashes.
The Duchess carries on with a song Paul Newman played on the banjo in the movie when he heard his mother had died.
“Time to turn in now, you young ones,” she says as she ends the song, but we’re all having too much fun and Jody, Sandy, Natalie, and Carly ignore her, getting up and running down to the sea to whoop and screech, jumping away from the rushing waves. Even scaredy-cat Natalie is joining in, though she’s taken her blankie with her.
“What we have here is a failure to communicate,” quotes Jas, speaking in a nasal drawl like the prison boss in Cool Hand Luke, and I laugh.
“Sing that song you made up, Bonz,” Jas urges me.
“You write songs?” Mrs. Campbell’s eyes light up and she smiles at me.
“No, not really. Poems.”
“Poems? I love poetry. You must read me your poems sometime.”
I’m glad it’s dark because I can feel my cheeks start to flush.
Then the Duchess strums and sings sweetly:
Where have all the flowers gone,
Long time passing?
“It’s a beautifully sad song,” I say.
“It’s an antiwar song, Bonnie. Did you know that?” she asks.
“You’re not antiwar, are you, Mrs. Campbell?”
“A rather unorthodox and dangerous thing to be if you live on a U.S. military base in wartime, don’t you think?”
“I guess.” She didn’t answer my question. The Duchess sings again.
“You have a lovely voice, Mrs. Campbell,” says Jas.
“Oh no, Jasmine.” Suddenly her laugh has no humor. “My husband…” Her voice cracks. “My husband was a real musician.” She strums a few chords and bends her head, a curtain of auburn hair covering her face. Without saying any more we follow the juniors away down the beach into the shadows, to leave her to her thoughts.
We play tag, running in and out of the darkness, chasing one another and squealing with pretend terror. The wind sweeps our voices away. Hope gives the juniors towel rides. They love it, even Natalie. They are like little monkeys climbing all over her. I look back and watch the Duchess as she lies by the fire, smoking, drinking from a bottle. She looks so romantic in her ankle-length antique petticoat with lace around the hem. It’s dyed a bright crimson, and with it she wears an embroidered white peasant blouse with ribbon threaded around the loose neck. She has such style, the Duchess; she looks so unusual, so individual.
“Have you noticed she isn’t wearing a bra?” Arlene whispers loudly to May.
“Yeah, so what? Her tits are bigger and perkier than yours.”
Arlene pushes May over sideways and May pushes her back and they both giggle. Jody’s pleading voice interrupts their bickering. “Mikey says can we stay here forever?”
“Who the hell’s Mikey?” Arlene asks.
“Her imaginary friend. Yes, Jody, if you like. We’ll join the monkeys and gibbons in the trees and eat fruit and leaves.” I could get used to living on a desert island. Though I could do without Arlene and May.
There are no stars tonight and the wind has picked up.
I’m dizzy on cola and fresh air and excitement. The juniors are rubbing their eyes from tiredness. The occasional bright star exposes itself between clouds, but then the sky descends, dropping rain from its blackness. It drives toward us in sheets across the sea and we flee, laughing, to our tents.
Tucked into our sleeping bags I read aloud to Jas from the book I brought with me—Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, by Robert M. Pirsig. Mom’s just finished it and says it’s interesting and adult, and it’s a cult favorite and it’s about time I read something intelligent and challenging.
“Give it a shot—you’ll like it,” she said. So I’m trying to read it, but it’s hard work. I find it’s easier to understand if I read it out loud.
“Everything gets written down, formally, so that you know at all times where you are, where you’ve been, where you’re going and where you want to get…. Sometimes just the act of writing down the problems straightens out your head as to what they really are.” In the book the author’s talking about fixing the bike, but I think his advice applies to lots of problems. I’m always writing down my problems—like, if Lan Kua wanted to kiss me, would I say yes? My journal knows all my secrets.
“Do you think Lan Kua is serious about me?” I ask Jas. She knows how much I like him.
“Yeah, sure he is. And he’s cute.” She beams and makes a kissing shape with her lips.
“Hey. Keep off. I saw him first,” I joke. “Anyway, he’s going to be a monk soon,” I tell her.
“I thought he wanted to be a kickboxer.”
“Yeah, he does, but it’s something most Thai boys do, you know? Like a rite of passage or something. He was ordained last year, and he has to spend time as a monk to gain merit for his family.”
The canvas tent billows like a sail on a yacht.
“Weird. Will he be allowed to have sex?”
“Jas! Stop it.” We hit each other, giggling.
“Time to settle down now,” Mrs. Campbell calls to us above the noise of the wind and the tents. “It’s been a long day for us all.”
I take out my journal and write in it quickly. I couldn’t possibly stay awake long enough to write about everything that’s happened today.
DAY 1, 11 PM
Wonderful day, wonderful island—THE WRONG ISLAND, but who cares! Paradise.
But it sure is windy!
I slip the book and journal back inside my waterproof folder and tuck it inside my sleeping bag against my leg. Jas is breathing as if she’s already asleep. I check that my sneakers are nearby—have to wear them so we don’t get the dreaded chigger bites (pesky critters; they’re such small mites you can hardly see them, but their bites can make you so uncomfortable!)—before I switch off my flashlight, which I’ve looped around my wrist.
Help! Help! Oh my God! What’s happening? Help!”
“What is it? Flashlight! Where’s the flashlight? Got it!”
Screams. Breath torn from my chest.
“Oh God, the tent! The tent!”
“Grab it, hang on!”
The wind, like some fierce horned beast, rips our tent to shreds. Its vicious roar deafens us as we’re blasted awake. One moment we’re snug in our sleeping bags and the next we’re totally exposed to the elements. Jas and I laugh at first, then realize the enormity of what’s happening. It’s not just us. All the other tents are blowing away, too. We grab at the flimsy stuff and try to hold it down, but it’s useless; torn canvas flies away like a huge freed bird, high into the furious sky. We’re immediately soaked and chilled. We hang on to each other, buffeted by gusts that take away my breath. It feels as if my eyes are being torn out.
“Girls, where are you? Oh God…”
Then there’s an enormous terrifying blast of air, an explosion that takes the last of our tents, leaving us like hermit crabs without our shells. A livid, full red moon briefly illuminates them, turning them into dragons as they are whisked away to disappear into the terrible night. Cries are whipped away from our lips. The wind snarls and tall waves crash close. Sheet lightning illuminates the sky around us. In one flash I see girls etched against the white surf, heads forward, bodies leaning, tilted into the teeth of the wind as if frozen. I see a sleeping bag rolling along the top of the beach and wrapping itself around a palm tree.
“Help! No, no, no!”
“Teddy, my tedd—”
“We’re going to die. Mommy, Mommy… Mommy. Please…”
Screams. Moans. Screams. Soundless sobbing and wailing and calls for help lost in the awesome howl of the wind. It must be a hurricane. It’s chaotic, a disaster. Like a terrible dream. Jas and I try to move toward the others. Sand in my eyes, mouth, I’m breathing sand. I’m choking. My hair feels as though it’s being ripped from my scalp. The wind is attacking us.
“Hang… to… the little ones, hang on… sleeping bags,” shouts Mrs. Campbell, her words whisked away into the night as soon as they leave her lips, and we do, except that we can’t see who’s who unless lightning flashes. I crawl on all fours with Carly, I think, in my grasp, away from the waves, toward the trees, which are being flung and torn as we are. The wind snatches at our sleeping bags, but we hang on, grimly.
A sudden racket of cawing and screeching, and I see in another flash a black mass of birds—like a flock of mad witches, upside down, flying backwards, inside out, in a dense, fast-moving cloud. A fork of lightning strikes a tall tree only twenty feet away and it explodes before our eyes: twelve-foot splinters, like flamethrowers, are hurled into the sea and all around us. We throw ourselves onto the sand and instinctively cover our heads. Nearby on the sand a burning splinter glows and blackens. A huge gleaming branch gallops along the beach, spitting blue flames. I can’t stop shaking. It’s like war, I think, like being a Vietnamese peasant when a bomb drops, maybe dropped by someone I know.
I cling to the trunk of the nearest palm with one arm, the other curled around Carly, who is hit so hard by the wind that I have difficulty keeping hold of her. She loses her sleeping bag; it is torn from her grip and bounces along the shore like a fat acrobat, eventually disappearing into the forest. We crouch together, blinded by sand and wind. The sea is too close but I dare not let go to move farther back into the trees. The palm that is our anchor is blown so far over that the feathered branches are furiously sweeping the sand like a mad robotic broom. In the brief instances of intense light I can see the fringe of palms all along the beach bent almost horizontal.
It’s three AM, my watch tells me, glowing in the dark, and still the wind moans and screeches.
It feels like the end of the world.
“Here, Jas, with Carly,” I yell to her—I can’t see her, but she’s somewhere close. I can’t let go of either the trunk or Carly to switch on my flashlight. I hear the low wail of children, helpless and frail: Or is it me, my own terror?
In a lull, which is somehow terrifying, as if the wind is taking a big breath to blow even harder, we manage to crawl along the beach, moving from tree to tree, rock to rock, and stumbling over fallen trunks and the tumbling branches. Rain and sea spray whip me; snot smears my hair; my legs are clawed and spat at by sand and flying debris.
I open my eyes as little as possible, only to keep track of the crawling bodies ahead of us. I notice, like a fussing mother, that most of us have managed to save our shoes. Thank God. Finally, at the far end of the beach, clambering over and above the rocks where the dragon’s tail curves out into the sea, we find shelter in the shallow cave Hope saw yesterday. It’s more like the armpit of an overhanging rock. Too exhausted to speak, we shiver and tremble in a terrified huddle. The terrible rage and whine of the storm is inside my head, in my brain, cutting out all rational thought. Soaked through, cold, frightened beyond anything in my experience, sand literally everywhere, I give up and simply endure.
We huddle in wet, sandy sleeping bags. Carly shares mine, sobbing against me. The juniors are beyond comforting, curled up like caterpillars. They stink of urine and wet hair. Jas nudges me and points to where we can see waves reaching right up beyond the tree line.
I have no sense of the passage of time, but eventually a faint streak of sickly saffron light appears on the horizon. Low dark clouds hang ragged in a lurid green sky. Mrs. Campbell crawls around us, checking to see if there are any injuries. We begin to talk to one another, hushed and shocked. Mrs. Campbell does a roll call.
“Yes, I’m here. Wish I wasn’t, but I am.”
“Yes.” I am attempting to get rid of the sand in my ears and my nose and the corners of my eyes.
“Here, Mrs. Campbell, and I’m covered in cuts and scratches.”
Hope snivels and mumbles, “Yeah.”
“My leg, my leg.” She’s been whimpering all night, come to think of it.
“We’ll have a look at it in a minute, dear.”
“Yes, Mrs. Campbell.”
Carly sobs a small “Yes,” then wails, “Teddy, teddy!” But Mrs. Campbell doesn’t respond.
“Sandy?” she calls next.
“Sandy? Sandy? Where’s Sandy?”
We look around us.
“Carly, where’s your sister, honey?”
Carly cries, low and persistently.
“What is it, dear? Where is Sandy?”
“I don’t know, I don’t know.”
“What do you mean? You haven’t seen her?”
“I don’t know.” Carly sobs loudly into my arms, snot streaking her pale little moon face. I shake my head at Mrs. Campbell.
“Sandy! Sandy! Sandy!”
“You had her, didn’t you?” Arlene asks May.
Excerpted from Lost Girls by Kelley, Ann Copyright © 2012 by Kelley, Ann. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Posted January 4, 2013
Posted November 20, 2012
Honestly, I wasn't sure if I was ready for a modernized version of Lord of the Flies, but the historical setting caught my eye--and Thailand? Yes, please! I enjoyed learning more about life as a kid following her parents to war, and Bonnie and her friends have many interesting stories and random facts to tell.
Bonnie is an amazingly resourceful and intelligent girl. She is a realist, someone who questions the workings of the world, and a natural engineer, as her talent for creating things suggests. When the one "adult" (she is far from a responsible one, and I'll never forgive her for the first tragedy to strike) Layla Campbell breaksdown, Bonnie takes charge of the camp. She isn't afraid of doing the dirty work or telling the others what to do. It doesn't make her a favorite with the more girly girls who just want to have fun, but she'll get things done. She is the most endearing of all the girls, the majority of which don't know what they're doing, though I do have a soft spot for Jody.
My favorite part of this book is the new knowledge I accumulated. Bonnie's father is part of the army, and he taught her survival tips. Bonnie has a list of facts on how to tell whether or not a plant is edible. She wrote it down in her journal to prove to her dad that she does pay attention to him, not knowing that she'd ever need to refer to it for survival. Her friends Jas and Hope also have useful information of their own from Jas's wealth of information on the wildlife to Hope's practical knowledge that helps them build a base and try to signal for help.
Reminiscent of Lord of the Flies, Lost Girls explores what would happen if adolescent girls were stranded on an island around Thailand in the midst of the Vietnam War. The worst in the girls comes out but also the best. While it is easy to get frustrated with their situation, the girls also grow more courageous and bond together in their shared misfortunes. They learn how to cope and how to make the best out of what little they have. This is a book that I'd recommend reading at least once.
Posted October 14, 2012
I have seriously been dying to start reading Lost Girls by Ann Kelley. I mean come on! A novel set during the seventies with a series of shipwrecked girls? Read the synopsis, doesn’t that sound just plain awesome? I was expecting a story that could be compared to Lord of the Flies and would be kind of like Lost minus the novel ending in a church. I was expecting so many amazing things (one of them including cannibalism) and am a bit sad to say that Lost Girls fell far from what I expected.
The novel is set in the mid-seventies from the POV (point of view) of Bonnie MacDonald whose family is in a military base in Thailand. Going on a trip with her fellow Amelia Earhart Cadets to an island that the boatman claimed was forbidden. Things quickly take a turn for the worst when a hurricane rips through their camp, killing one of their own and making a few day trip turn into weeks lost on the “forbidden island” where death seems to be causing the groups numbers to dwindle.
Lost Girls had such a promising plot, but if there’s one thing that totally set me off it was the fact that nobody was panicking. Seriously? You all just got caught in a hurricane, the ocean is a mess, nobody is gonna be coming to save you, one of your own friends just died and your holding onto stupid prejudices and acting like everything is going to be perfectly clear. It wasn’t denial. It was almost like everybody in the story except for the main character Bonnie and her friends Hope and Jas noticed that their trip just turned into something out of a horror movie.
Throughout the story their numbers begin to fall and constantly “the Glossies” and their chaperon Layla act like idiots by telling Bonnie to stop annoying them, to go get food for them while they get high and drunk and remain ignorant by saying that somebody will come to save them. The Glossies themselves just annoyed me, how did they manage to get into a cadets group that is dedicated to survival and believe that they should bring make-up and hair curlers onto their trip to the middle of nowhere? I liked how author Ann Kelley could create characters and situations that could grind my gears like that, but there did come a point where I’d have to put the book down and let my emotions sit.
The tragedies that came across in this book were great, really. They grab your emotions and take you on a ride. Especially since some of the deaths are for nine year old girls and for readers who have kids or people close to them who are that age, you’ll probably need a box of tissues. Another thing though that I think I should bring up is the lack of realism in the age groups. Kelley had nine year old girls acting like five year olds, it wasn’t too long ago that I was nine years old and I am pretty sure that I didn’t need a teddy bear to go to sleep and that my imaginary friend stopped existing a couple of years prior.
It’s probably because I’m still young that that bothered me so much, I still remember being nine and that was only four years ago. Nine year olds don’t act like five year olds and I feel like a lot of authors in YA make that mistake.
There were a ton of points in the story that left me shocked and so I expected the ending of the novel to be this big climax that would leave me feeling the way I did when I saw the Dark Knight Rises: Breathless. Sadly, I found the end of the novel to be lacking and in total the novel didn’t work for me the way I wanted it to.
I would recommend Lost Girls to rea