Little Island

Little Island

by Katharine Britton


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780425266359
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 09/03/2013
Pages: 320
Sales rank: 681,597
Product dimensions: 5.00(w) x 8.10(h) x 0.90(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Katharine Britton teaches at the Institute of Lifelong Education at Dartmouth College, the Writer’s Barn in Shelburne and the Writer’s Center in White River, Vermont.  She has written three screenplays, one of which is a Moondance International Film Festival winner, and has a master’s degree in creative writing from Dartmouth College.  She is the author of one previous novel, Her Sister’s Shadow, and lives in Vermont. 

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

Praise for Little Island

“A story about the power of redemption and self-fulfillment. Ms. Britton understands everything there is to understand about the Maine coast, from the way fog 'both muffles and amplifies sound' to the fishing techniques of ospreys. Best of all, she understands how, through love, the human heart can overcome just about anything.”—Howard Frank Mosher

“Such luscious writing I wanted to slow down to savor it…The complicated, flawed, generous Little family reminded me of my own, and how, in the midst of the risks and raptures and currents of life, we save one another.”—Nancy Thayer, author of Island Girls

"A beautifully written and deeply thoughtful family story, enriched by Britton's acutely rendered details of a beloved natural landscape and her wise understanding of complex human hearts. The tale is touched with heartbreak but leavened with humor, and is captivating from first page to last."—Reeve Lindbergh, author of Under a Wing and Forward from Here: Leaving Middle Ageand Other Unexpected Adventures

Praise for Her Sister’s Shadow

“The quintessential summer holiday book.”—Sally Ryder Brady, author of A Box of Darkness

“A deeply satisfying read.”—Ernest Hebert, author of The Old American and Never Back Down

“Evocative, compelling, and exquisitely written.”—Joni B. Cole, coeditor of Water Cooler Diaries

“Both evocative and precise...A story of loss, grievance, and the permutations of time, rendered with disarming honesty.”—Catherine Tudish, author of Tenney’s Landing and American Cream 

"A touching, intricate account of painful memories that radically shapes lives."—Publishers Weekly

Reading Group Guide


When Grace Little, proprietor of the Little Island Inn off the coast of Maine, finds a cryptic note left behind by her late mother, she believes the final words to be funeral instructions. But the final comment, have fun, leaves her perplexed as she awaits the return of her far-flung family. Though her adult children face their own troubles and challenges, something more than family unity binds them together: a long-buried secret that haunts them all. As they come together to remember the past, they learn that sometimes all it takes is a few simple words to reveal what really matters.


Katharine Britton teaches at the Institute of Lifelong Education at Dartmouth College, at the Writer's Barn in Shelburne, Vermont, and at the Writer's Center in White River, Vermont. She has written three screenplays, one of which is a Moondance International Film Festival winner, and has a master's degree in creative writing from Dartmouth College. She is the author of one previous novel, Her Sister's Shadow, and lives in Vermont. Visit her online at

  • In the beginning of the story, Joy has just seen her only child off to college. In this moment, how does Joy identify herself? What qualities does she use to describe herself, and how does this change after her weekend at the Inn? As you get to know her family members, how do you think they see her?
  • Why is Joy the only character who narrates her parts of the story in first person?
  • Joy feels like Alice in Wonderland, falling down the rabbit hole out of control. Do you think she intends to leave her husband forever when she packs up all of her clothes and belongings into her car to take to the Inn?
  • Describe Tamar. Is she a likeable character? Does she have any redeeming qualities? How do you feel about her by the end of the book as compared to the beginning?
  • There are three sets of twins in the Little family stemming from the maternal side. What is the significance of twins and pairs in the story? Do you believe there is a special bond between twins that other siblings don't share?
  • Edgar says, "An island, especially a small one, isn't right for everyone. It requires planning and time to get to and from Little Island. This is as it should be. But some people don't like boundaries, feel hemmed in, don't do well with them." How does the setting of a small island help shape the story of this family? How would this story be different if it were set somewhere else?
  • Motherhood is a central theme in this story. Describe Joan, Grace, Joy, and Tamar as mothers. How are they similar and how are they different? What do you think the author is trying to say about motherhood by weaving their stories together?
  • Why doesn't the Little family ever talk about the crash?
  • What was your reaction to learning Tamar was the driver in the crash? Why do you think Roger took the blame, and, if you were Roger, would you be able to forgive Tamar?
  • Does Joy feel guilty for keeping the secret about Tamar driving in the accident? If she hadn't, how do you think everything would have turned out differently for the family?
  • After Joy jumps into the tide, she muses, "How many of us live lives driven by rules and assumptions that we never test?" and realizes "we are only as stuck as we allow ourselves to be." Do you believe in this statement? In what other ways is Joy held back by her rules and assumptions (besides her water phobia)? In what ways are her siblings and parents also "stuck"?
  • Grace believed her mother wanted her memorial service to be fun, and worries she won't be able to honor her mother's wish with her family that weekend, stating "'Fun' was not a word she associated with their gatherings." Near the end of the book, after meeting her estranged aunts, Grace realizes having fun is a matter of perspective. What isfun to Grace? To her aunts, husband, and children? Does the memorial service turn out to be fun?
  • The note Grace finds left by her mother that says "Flowers, By the Water, Have fun!" turns out to be a to-do list for Joan's life, not her death. What list would you make for your own life right now? What would the list have been like when you were a teenager?
  • Roger uses the metaphor of building a house to describe the dynamic of his family after the crash, suggesting that after the secret of Tamar's fault is revealed, their house will stand a little straighter. How does this metaphor resonate with Joy? Do you like this metaphor for the Little family? Does it hold true in the end?
  • What do you think future reunions hold for the Little family at the Inn?
  • Customer Reviews

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    Little Island 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 8 reviews.
    RtBBlog More than 1 year ago
    Reviewed by Robin Book provided by the publisher for review Review originally posted at Romancing the Book Ms. Britton writes a good story using the dynamics of a dysfunctional family. I think just about every family anymore has some bit of dysfunction within them. Whether this generation or the past we all can relate in some way to this topic, it may even be a friend that we know of. We have all seen how as adults some people run from the past, the pain, the old life they used to live while hiding in the shadows trying to escape. As we all know you can only escape for a while because things tend to catch up with us after a while. Good or bad we have to face the past sometimes. That is just what happens for this family. Joy’s son is leaving for college (empty nest syndrome…been there). She feels lost…with no purpose in life. She is also a cutter. Which I found interesting as I have dealt with this in teenager but it isn’t spoken about in adults. Well, written making you think what was so awful to make her choose to do this to herself. Tamar and Roger are twins…Tamar is married with twins of her own whom she hasn’t/doesn’t want to bond with. To her being a lawyer consumes her life. Roger her twin has never married escaping life with his addiction to pain killers and alcohol. While reading this story we find that everything goes back 20 years to a tragic car accident. Brought together for a family burial…the shocking truth comes out. As they each confront the other the weights on their shoulders fall and healing can start. Ms. Britton wrote a very insightful story dealing with the hurt and pain that we sometimes tend to hide within the shadows of our lives. The hidden messages sometimes made you stop to re-examine your own life showing us that we all go through crisis’ which are best to deal with at the time then to let grow causing more problems over time. I loved the descriptions of Maine and the ‘Isle Au Haut’. Just absolutely beautiful helping to make the suspense, pain and secrets of the past seem a little less daunting. Not a book for the beach or if you want something on the lighter side. This is about a real family with real issues. It will make you laugh, cry and want to look at your life to change things.
    lovelybookshelf More than 1 year ago
    Little Island caught my attention when I happened to be in the mood for a contemporary fiction, family-drama type of novel, and it had the added bonus of being set in Maine. It didn't disappoint. Joy, her mother Grace, her father Gar, and her twin siblings Roger and Tamar have been working through a tragedy from their past, one that has affected each of them in a different way. When they come together to hold a memorial service for Grace's mother, tensions come to a head. Each family member is forced to deal with one another, as well as look within to find peace. The dialogue was realistic, the characters complex. Britton spent plenty of time fleshing them out. Details about what happened in the past are revealed slowly, in pieces, giving the reader a chance to get to know the characters before judgment could cloud an opportunity to connect with them. Gar seemed to get the short end of the stick as far as character development goes, but ultimately this is a book about mothers and their children, how motherhood affects identity, and the grief that comes with losing your mom. It's wonderfully executed, complete with all the complexities that come with those relationships and the ways they change with age. There wasn't a single moment of this novel that failed to keep my attention. Little Island a feel-good women's fiction type of story that kept me up into the wee hours of the night to finish it. Enjoyed this one. 4 1/2 stars
    MisfitGeek More than 1 year ago
    I have very mixed feelings about this book.  I definitely was a little disappointed with it.  Perhaps I expected so much more because I liked the author’s first book, HER SISTER’S SHADOW, so much.  This book does not flow quite as well as Ms. Britton’s first book.  I really felt that she did not handle the transitions in points of view and time periods very well.  The sudden changes were very distracting.  It was almost irritating for me and I sometimes wondered what the section I was reading had to do with the whole.  There are still parts that I can’t reconcile a purpose for in the overall story. I found the characters were rather underdeveloped and hard to understand.  I didn’t really like or connect with any of them.  I often find it hard to thoroughly enjoy a book when this happens and it is more than a little disappointing. Although I did not think it was the most enjoyable book I have read, it was not terrible either.  I do enjoy Ms. Britton’s writing for the most part, but I do not think this is an example of her best work.  I hope for more books like HER SISTER’S SHADOW from her in the future.
    KrittersRamblings More than 1 year ago
    Check out the full review at Kritters Ramblings A generational saga that really proved the point that when you go home you also go back in age.  When children return home, they revert back to the ways and the people they were when they were children in the home.  So in this book, Grace and Gar have their children - Joy, Roger and Tamar returning home for the memorial of Grace's mother.   Joy is the only character who narrates in first person and I think the author perfectly chose her to guide the story along with the eyes of the story.  The rest of the cast of characters are not left out, but none get to share straight from their point of view.  I think I know why the author did this and once you read the book, I would love to know if you agree (but I can't share or else it would spoil the fun!).  
    lsmeadows More than 1 year ago
    Joy Little's life is changing.  Her only child has just left for college, but instead of going with him on dorm move-in weekend, she is headed to her childhood home, Little Island, to attend her grandmother's memorial service.  Although she loved her grandmother, spending the weekend on the Island with her parents and her twin siblings, Roger and Tamar, is not something she is looking forward to.   Given their family history, family get-togethers for the Little family are tumultuous at best and Joy just does not know if she is up for the challenge.   Although basically Contemporary Fiction, Little Island falls into a class of books that I call "family drama" books.  You know the type, books where we get a glimpse of a family that is struggling due to a past or present crisis.  For me, enjoyment of books of this type hinge two things; how well the author handles the family's various crises, and how the author builds the characters and their relationships.   I am happy to say, Katharine Britton did a great job of both in this book.   The characters in this book spoke to me right off the bat.  The oldest sister, Joy, is going through empty nest syndrome, exhibiting feelings I am very familiar with since I have two sons in college.  As the oldest sibling, then as a mom, her whole life has been about taking care of people.  What is she supposed to do now?  On the flip side, her sister Tamar is the youngest, and the one they "almost lost".  As such, the other family members have danced around her all of her life.  Now she finds herself as a wife and the mother of twins with no idea how to put anyone else first.  Finally there is Roger, the one that was always in trouble, the cause of the families biggest crisis, a crisis that still defines them, and the one thing that has always defined his life.  I though that the author did a wonderful job of developing these and other characters in the book, giving them the right mix of traits to allow me to empathize with them at times, and want to smack them at others., but always hoping they were able to break past the roles that defined them.   Thus it was the characters in the book, especially the Little siblings, which allowed a predictable story line to become unpredictable. \ Another thing that I liked about the book was the way the author told the family's story.  While the bulk of the story took place during the weekend of the memorial service, part of it flashed back to 20 years prior, the time surrounding the crisis that defined the family.  In addition,  different chapters focused on the thoughts and feelings of different family members, giving each of them a chance to "tell their side of the story" so to speak.  It was a method of telling the story that really worked for me.   Almost exactly two years ago, I read Katharine Britton's first book, Her Sister's Shadow, which I also rated 4 stars.  As with that book, I enjoyed this book's interplay between the family members.  What set this book apart and elevated it to that next level, for me, were the characters.  I am glad to see that Katharine Britton has not lost her touch with story telling, and that her characters have even more personality than before.  I would highly recommend this book to those who like books centered around families and drama.   Many thanks to Katharine Britton and The Sisterhood of the Traveling Book for allowing me to read this book in exchange for a review. 
    Bookworm_Babblings More than 1 year ago
    I received a free copy of this novel in exchange for my honest review. Grace Little is planning a memorial service for her mother, where she will meet her aunts for the first time. As if that isn't stressful enough, she has her annual family gathering with her husband and children the same weekend. Joy is Grace' s oldest living child, I say this because all of the children, although they never knew Abigail, lived in the shadow of her memory. Joy' s son, Rex, and husband, Stuart, have headed off to move Rex into his dorm. As she's packing for her trip to Little Island she becomes overwhelmed with the thought of an empty nest, what will she do with herself? How will she cope? Tamar, the youngest of the twins, is a successful attorney and brilliant businesswoman. Because of this, she has wonderful twin girls that she barely knows. Her husband Daniel has been raising them. This weekend, she'll be taking them to Little Island alone. Roger is the family troublemaker. Ever since childhood he's gotten into some sort of trouble. His worst, that fateful night exactly twenty years ago, this weekend. Now he battles drug and alcohol addiction, and memories of a lost love. Will Grace manage to pull off a fun weekend and memorial service? Will Joy be able to figure out what she really wants and return to her empty nest? Will Tamar learn what is most important in her life before it's too late? Will Roger be able to finally stop feeling like a disappointment to his father? This book was so moving. There is some portion of each character you can easily relate to. Little Island sounds like a beautiful island to live on, where you could just be left to find yourself. The character I most related to was Joy. She was always treated like a third wheel when with her twin siblings, but when there was trouble, she was the one they turned to. The end of the book was so funny, I laughed until I cried. This was a wonderful book I'm sure everyone will enjoy.
    literarymuseVC More than 1 year ago
    Joy, Tamar and Roger, as well as other family and friends, arrive at the inn on Little Island, Maine for a memorial service for their late grandmother, who left very specific instructions for their part in the service, “Grace. Flowers. By the water. Have fun!”  Their mother, Grace, and father, Gar know that this seems like an impossible series of requests, in fact nothing short of a miracle.  For this family are all bearing a terrible grief over an accident that took one of their own years ago.  Roger has his own added grief to add to the stockpile.  But they aren’t morose characters at all; in fact they are like sparks of electricity that flash on each other.  Grace wonders whether it will all implode or explode over this family gathering!  Her efforts are noble and delicate throughout the entire family journey from the past to the present. Joy’s son has just gone off to college and she’s got a hefty case of “empty nest syndrome” that brings her back to a very unstable part of her life. She wonders if she will revert to those behaviors or if she can find herself and a future.  Tamar is a professional working woman whose husband is really the parent in control of raising their gorgeous, bubbly, imaginative twin daughters.  Rather than being grateful, Tamar is riddled with guilt over her lack of maternal instinct and skills in caring for her lovely children.  Roger’s got lots of spunk and one never knows what he will dream up next.  But he’s unreliable and a former addict.  Grace and Joy wonder if the clan being together will free him from his addictions or draw him deeper, especially since they find out that a long lost love of his is now divorced and free again.   Each segment of this visit brings new challenges and minor arguments; however, the marvelous part of this is that it’s not just barbs and battles but each character has a unique ability to reflect on what’s occurring externally and internally. That is the miracle that develops this story into an engaging, realistic and beautifully healing story.  A secret will eventually be revealed and once it is, then honesty issues from everyone and the healing can truly begin.  For guilt and blame lurk behind the battles until acceptance of each other’s role in the past gets aired.  Forgive and forget? One can never forget but can learn to accept one’s truest self. Each will realize they must dare to do one particular act or say one particular thing that will free not only the other person but the one doing the acting or speaking.  Gar and Grace have raised terrific children who show their strengths and foibles endearing readers to recognize and perhaps identify with in similar or different ways! Add to the story glorious descriptions of this island, the inn, favorite spots to picnic or swim, magnificent views and a lovely home crafted to welcome not only friends but tourists, and you have one delightful, memorable and well-crafted work of fiction which this reviewer highly recommends!
    BeachRead245 More than 1 year ago
    Thank you to BookSparks Pr and Berkley Trade for sending me the novel Little Island. A family gathering that turns into so much more full of secrets and intrigue. Synopsis: Grace is looking forward to her family getting together to celebrate the life of her mother Joanie. When a family gathering occurs then conflicts arise. There is a conflict which has shattered the lives of her children. Joy knows what happened twenty years ago but agreed to stay silent. She is also considering whether to leave her husband. There has always been a rift between her and her twin siblings. Roger has recently finished serving his time for a murder charge which stems from the accident, and he is trying to start over. Will his twin let him? Tamar has always been in control except for the accident those twenty years ago. She has stayed in control at work. Her husband has been relegated to the role of nanny for their twin daughters. He is not coming this weekend. Will she be able to cope? Once the secret is revealed how will this impact the family? My Thoughts: Little Island is an interesting story. The author does a great job of setting up the plot. She introduces you to the characters and weaves the conflict within their relationships. The story is a little detail heavy but it is important to follow the rest of the story. There is also a clear distinction of how those characters affect one another and their lives. For me I lost interest at points while the characters were being introduced. This is a good novel.