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The Island by Gary Paulsen is the story of Wil Neuton and covers one summer in the boy's life. Wil is fifteen years old when everything in his life changes. His father has accepted a new job working on the highway, and the Neutons leave their urban life in Madison and move to a more rural and unappealing spot. It is a difficult time for Wil, as he is cut off from his friends and the life he once had; now he feels isolated and rather lost.
He takes refuge on an island he discovers in the middle of a nearby lake. At first he just visits the island during the day; then he stays out there for a night, and soon he is actually living out there full time. In fact, he soon gets so comfortable living there that he wonders if he will ever move back home.
Wil may live on an island, but he does not live there in isolation. He has many visitors who co me to see him--some friendly and well meaning and some not-so-friendly or well meaning. His new friend Susan comes to visit him (and is quite clear about her romantic interest in Wil), and though she is well intentioned, Wil convinces her that he is fine and actually has her go tell his parents that he will be staying on the island. Ray Bunner is one of the not-so-welcome visitors to the island. Ray is the town bully, and Wil and Ray get into a physical fight before Ray will leave the island.
Wil's parents are naturally concerned and try to convince their son to come home, but Wil is determined and they leave him alone. The school counselor has no better luck when he tries to figure out the boy's motivations. The reporters who come to see what is happening with the strange boy on the island get nothing substantive to explain Wil's choice either.
Wil makes and finds three friends on the island, though none of them are human. He studies the loon and becomes quite sensitive to the emotions contained in its called. To communicate well, Wil learns that he needs to listen. . From the heron who stands for long periods of time he learns patience. The turtle is a more violent representation of preying and torturing its victims, and Wil sees that in himself when he is forced to confront Ray.
Susan's mother describes Wil as "one of the thirsty people who need to know," and that is an apt description of him. Wil is not being rebellious or acting out some kind of aggression; instead he is trying to somehow recreate the experiences of his life. This island, then, becomes a kind of refuge for a searching young man.
In the prologue we are told that this island is kind of an ignored and overlooked spot, but it is fascinating place because it has been left virtually untouched by civilization. This is the perfect place for a student of the past and seeker of truth, which is what Wil is.
Wil Neuton discovered the island, or was discovered by it—he was never sure which.
Wil simply needs to find a place which helps him stay grounded and serves as an unchanging presence to someone who is in the midst of tremendous change.
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