Marrow Island, by Alexis W. Smith (2016)

Marrow Island, by Alexis SmithThirty-something journalist Lucie Bowen returns to the island where her father lost his life in a fire at an oil refinery following a fictional earthquake that levelled Seattle. Twenty years have passed, and people have rebuilt the cities and their lives. Little seems to have changed. Is it a triumph of the human spirit or a foolish ignorance of the inevitable? Despite the chemical spills and contamination that followed the refinery fire, a small eco-minded colony is apparently thriving on Marrow Island. One of its residents is Lucie’s childhood friend Katie, who invites Lucie to visit and see what remarkable changes have resulted from to the Colony’s environmental efforts. The book opens in October 2014, with Lucie escaping the island after an attempt on her life. The narrative switches between between the days leading up to her near-murder, and May 2016, when she is living with a park ranger in eastern Oregon’s Malheur National Forest, writing the story of what really happened at Marrow Colony. This device allows Smith to build dual storylines that culminate in a single ending, and along the way raise questions about love, death, friendship, loss, our relationship with the earth, and the impact of our choices, both big and small. Smith’s writing is sure and strong, with realistic dialogue and careful attention to detail. She draws on a keen observation of human behaviour to create characters and relationships that feel as real as the Puget Sound setting. It’s fast-paced but not frenetic, and while at times the environmental message seems a bit weighty, the overall effect is to encourage the reader to pause and reflect on the truth of her words. One of my favourites of the year so far. My thanks to publisher Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for the advance reading copy provided through NetGalley, in exchange for my honest review.
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