The Island at the End of Everything is a story of a girl who lives with her mother on the island of Culion. It is a beautiful island, full of flora and fauna- lush green forests surrounded by rocky beaches and colorful corals. It’s a tranquil place. Except no one wants to visit here. And no one is allowed to leave. It is the island of no return. The year is 1908 and the government has decreed that Culion be quarantined as a leper colony. The decree has a devastating impact- families are torn apart and forcefully evacuated. Amihan is sent to an orphanage on another island while her mother is quarantined.
I remember first learning about leprosy as a child while watching the movie Ben- Hur. In the movie, the protagonist returns home to find out that his love interest and his mother have contracted leprosy and are now living in a valley for the lepers. But instead of evoking a sense of empathy, I felt the movie further stigmatized leprosy in my impressionable young mind. This is why I love how this book is so sensitively done.
After Sugarplum finished reading this book, I asked her to tell me about it. She referred to Ami’s mother as being ‘touched’. I like how people are not referred to by their ailments. I showed Sugarplum some pictures of the actual Culion island and we dicussed leprosy and how it is a bacterial infection that can be treated. I told her about Ruth Pfau and her role in eradicating this disease is Pakistan.
Other than destigmatizing leprosy, this is also a story of friendship. There is a part in the story where Ami is frustrated with her friends Mari and Kidlat for slowing her journey back to Culion, so she lashes out at them. Her shame and regret is beautifully depicted in the prose. We re-read this part and discussed it. I believe, reading this would help children process anger and regret in a constructive away.
The resolution of the story takes us thirty years in the future when all the emotions have simmered down. And Ami talks about dealing with people without judgement-how something good can come from “a bad person’ and how even good people can do bad things. One main takeaway is that life is nuanced and we shouldn’t judge harshly.
Recommended for ages: 8 +
Flags: There is talk of death and disease, acts of arson and violence but nothing too graphic.