The House on Hummingbird Island by Sam Angus
Pan Macmillan, 2016. ISBN 9781447263036
(Age: 11-14) Highly recommended. Twelve-year-old Idie Grace's life changes dramatically, when she is taken from the safety of her Grancat's English home and sent on a sea voyage to the West Indies to her ancestral home. Accompanying her is her drunk governess and the accountant Numbers who leave the child to her own devices on board. Idie is a wild untameable child who loves to ride her horse Baronet on the ship's deck. Her past is surrounded by intrigue; her diary entries record the secrets of her heart as she longs to solve the mysterious disappearance of her mother.
The bright and shining years before 1914 are filled with light and freedom, and Idie packs her home with an abundance of rainbow coloured animals, toucans, a sun fowl in the dining room, a turtle in the bathroom and her talking parakeet companion Homer. Baronet her horse moves from the stables to take up residence in the hall. Her Pippi Longstocking life is wonderfully described as colourful, poignant, exotic, filled with exotic fauna, lush island foliage, delicious food and her friendship and adventures with neighbour Austin. In the background the adult characters have more sinister intentions: what role does Calypso play in her illness, why does he want to take her inheritance away? Her ethereal Aunt Celia's madness and her need to keep the house closed up are worrisome to Idie. The narrative has a darker subplot that develops - a counterpoint to the halcyon days Idie experiences. There are themes of racism, loneliness, British colonialism, mental illness, social acceptance, prejudice and war. The young protagonist matures, continuing to seek answers to her mother's death, and the narrative includes letters to her cousin Myles in England who also keeps an Idie Book filled with her developing story.
Halfway through the story the onset of World War 1 comes to the forefront. As the islanders enlist, including servants from Idie's estate and her friend Austin, the realities of war come to the fore. Sam Angus weaves these two distinct storylines together; the multi-layered threads drawn together in a revelatory conclusion.
Sam Angus's The House on Hummingbird Island is a lush narrative, led by a feisty independent protagonist, and a mystery that counterbalances the vividness of Idie's life with the dark shadows that surround her.