The Island Keeper Essay - Critical Context

Harry Mazer

Critical Context

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.