This novel addresses a number of issues of interest to teenagers. Although The Island Keeper can be read simply as a story of physical survival, the issues of emotional maturity, physical appearance, the death of family members, rebellion, the experience of running away from home, the need to attract attention in the hope of making family members appreciate one more, and the acceptance of others as they constitute key elements of the work. Loneliness and being alone are also factors—there is a difference between the two that must be realized. Harry Mazer’s dedication at the beginning of the book highlights the theme of seeking and taking action: “to the young who stand at the threshold of an uncertain world. Courage.”
Cleo is caught in a real crisis, and it is one that she has created. As she works to survive the island winter, she learns that self-discovery is the pathway through which she can free herself from this situation.
Cleo spends a total of seven months on the island. She arrives overweight, without preparations, unable to handle problems, and lonely. During her stay, she masters survival skills and learns to cope with the deaths of her mother and sister. She leaves thinner, confident, able to handle her problems, and ready to get on with her life. She realizes that no easy answers exist to life’s complexities. Cleo’s father and grandmother had searched for her and presumed her dead. They are still remote upon...
(The entire section is 526 words.)
Harry Mazer is a major contributor to young adult literature and the creator of realistic and memorable characters. Although his books were sometimes considered controversial at the time of their publication because of subject matter and language, they are popular with teenagers and are valued and used by both teachers and librarians. Books dealing with such issues as survival, belonging, self-esteem, maturity, and death serve as useful vehicles for classroom discussion. In addition, the endings to his novels are often open and answers are not always provided, offering more avenues for discussion.
The Island Keeper is a realistic novel that features one of the few female protagonists in Mazer’s fiction. The story has much in common with Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe (1719), the story of a man alone on a desert island; Mazer has cited it as one of his favorite books. His beliefs that one cannot run away from problems and that survival must rely on self-sufficiency are also evident in Snowbound (1973), a novel that deals with wealthy and unprepared runaway teenagers who survive a snowstorm and return home with fresh insight. Mazer continued his examination of death and its effect on grieving teenagers in When the Phone Rang (1985). Often, there is no happy ending in Mazer’s novels, a departure from the upbeat endings prevalent in young adult novels published during the 1970’s and 1980’s.
Mazer is the recipient of numerous awards and honors from associations of both teachers and librarians. His work has been appreciated and enjoyed by teenage readers, literary critics, and peers. In 1985, The Island Keeper was an Arizona Young Reader’s Award nominee. A majority of Mazer’s books, including Snowbound and When the Phone Rang, have been listed as the American Library Association’s Best Books of the Year for Young Adults. All feature characters who must solve problems on their own as they walk the path to maturity.