Review: Nim’s Island

Nim's Island
Nim’s Island by Wendy Orr

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

To be perfectly honest, I bought this book when we found out we were pregnant. The baby was no more than a speck at that point but I figured I should start getting books for the little one. And I’d seen the movie so this seemed like a safe bet.

As I should have known, the book and the movie are not the same, and in this rare instance, I think I actually prefer the film version, which isn’t to say the book is bad. They both follow the same general plot: Nim is a young girl, about 11 or so, who lives on an uncharted island with her scientist father, Jack. Nim’s mother was a marine biologist who, while exploring the contents of a blue whale’s stomach, was inadvertently sent to the bottom of the sea. This last was caused by a tour operator. So that’s our background.

Today, Jack is off to explore plankton (his specialty) leaving Nim in the care of her seal nanny Selkie, her bearded Iguana Fred and a sea turtle called Chica. When a storm comes up and Jack’s boat is damaged, Nim turns to an Internet friend, Alex(andra) Rover, for help. Rover also happens to be the author of Nim’s favorite adventure books and has emailed asking Jack for help with a plot problem, Nim ends up helping and the two form a bond – which comes in handy when a big storm hits and Nim gets injured and Alex comes from across the world to the rescue.

It’s a sweet book, aimed at readers the age of Nim and younger. I can absolutely see myself reading this to the little one when the time is right. At the same time, I think that’s also the problem with it. A few weeks ago, I read Roald Dahl’s BFG and was entranced. Yes, I’ll also be reading this to the little one, and it is geared towards that age, but I never felt that it wasn’t worth reading as an adult. And this is where I think the film of Nim’s Island is a bit better.

Both set themselves up as fairy tales, with animal caretakers and single parent raising a precocious child, but it’s with the character of Alex that the biggest change occurs. In the book, she’s merely an unadventurous person who wishes she could be more like the dashing hero of her novels. In the film, as played by Jodie Foster, Alex is an agoraphobic who is afraid to leave her home. Ultimately, this make the film more about her and the journey she under takes in order to rescue Nim, but at the same time, it gives an actual message to the story.

The book never has any real danger or character growth and, maybe I’m crazy, but I think those things are important once kids start reading bigger books. Even if everything is going to be okay in the end, doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be hardships and challenges along the way. Here, even after falling down and splitting her knee open, Nim is okay. Alex offers to come and help her and while Nim is grateful, she also says she really doesn’t need the help.

So while I think Speck will enjoy this book as a youngster, and will have fond memories of it in the future, I would strongly encourage not going back to revisit it as an adult, becuase it will only disappoint.

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