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Island Sting is an Entertaining Eco-Mystery

February 18, 2010

Island Sting by Bonnie Doerr
published by Leap Books December 15, 2009

Teen-aged Kenzie Ryan has just been transplanted from New York to the Florida Keys, at the peak of a sweltering, mosquito-infested summer. She is estranged from her father, and she has just lost her beloved dog. Now she and her mom are in an isolated spot with no friends. But Kenzie’s life is about to change quickly.

photo of key deer snagged from http://www.tripadvisor.com/

She begins to discover the abundance of wildlife in the area, including the miniature key deer, an endangered species that lives only in the Florida Keys. She also meets Angelo, whose father makes a living crabbing in the channels. He is intimately familiar with the local landscape, he cares about animals, and he is undeniably hot.

Kenzie learns that a poacher is killing the key deer on their island, and this is heart wrenching for her. She teams up with Angelo and some other local teens, who belong to Angelo’s church, to catch the poacher and bring him to justice.

Island Sting jumps right into the action. The first few pages will get your adrenaline pumping, and you care about Kenzie from the opening lines, because you see her courage and compassion. This novel is written in a simple, straightforward style, offering important details about the islands’ flora and fauna without a tremendous amount of description.

I have never visited Florida, and I didn’t know that key deer — which are actually a subspecies of the white-tailed deer that are abundant here in Virginia — even existed. I enjoyed getting a feel for the beaches, the channels, and the variety of wildlife in the keys. The author introduced various kinds of turtles, birds, and sharks and gave us a glimpse of their habitat. The book had a strong ecological message which was clear without being preachy. For example, it helps readers understand why well-intentioned tourists should not feed wild animals and how much harm can be done by boating in shallow waters.

Great Cormorant lifted from http://pl.treknature.com

I really liked Kenzie, who had a lot of heart and spunk, and I loved the book’s message of reverence for nature. I also have to give it bonus points for introducing several terrific dog characters. 😀 Dog stories are held in high esteem in this house.

I saw several flaws in the novel. I felt as if some aspects of the characters were missing. For example, I never knew the Kenzie’s and Angelo’s ages, and overall, I was left feeling I wanted to know them better. The secondary characters were never described, and I wished for a bit more detail. I also noticed several places where scenes shifted abruptly without a transition. However, I read the ARC; this was probably corrected in the final version.

Overall, I thought this novel was well crafted and suspenseful, with likable characters and careful attention to the natural world. Because of its straightforward literary style and light content — there is little violence and virtually no strong language — this seems like a good choice for middle grade readers as well as young adults. It offers enough action and suspense to hold young readers’ interest. It could also be a terrific springboard for discussion about biology, as it touches on habitats, threats to ecosystems, and species diversity.

For more information about this author, see her website. Also, look for the sequel to Island Sting, titled Stakeout, which will be released next year.

My thanks to Around the World Tours and Leap Books for loaning me an ARC of this book to review.

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