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book review: Island on the Edge of the World by Deborah Rodriguez

Island on the Edge of the WorldIsland on the Edge of the World by Deborah Rodriguez (Contemporary Fiction), Penguin Random House, $32.99, buy now

Haiti. A poor country rich in courage, strength and love. As these four women are about to discover.

Charlie, the rootless daughter of American missionaries, now working as a hairdresser in Northern California. But the repercussions of a traumatic childhood far from home have left her struggling for her way in life.

Bea, Charlie’s eccentric grandmother, who is convinced a reunion with her estranged mother will help Charlie heal.

Lizbeth, a Texas widow who has never strayed too far from home. She is on a daunting journey into the unknown, searching for the grandchild she never knew existed.

And Senzey, a young Haitian mother dealing with a lifetime of love and loss, who shows them the true meaning of bravery.

Together they venture through the teeming, colourful streets of Port-au-Prince, into the worlds of do-gooders doing more harm than good, Vodou practitioners, artists, activists, and everyday Haitian men and women determined to survive against all odds.

For Charlie, Bea, Lizbeth and Senzey, life will never be the same again . . .

Why I had to pick it up

This book went straight to my TBR pile for two big reasons. First, I'm always, always interested in stories that put women front and centre: stories about women, for women. I love a yarn that explores the way we connect with each other and cope with the complexities of life. Cracking the cover of this novel, with four very different female leads moving forwards together towards their own end goals, was a no-brainer for me.

The second reason was the author's bio:  Deborah Rodriguez's own story fascinated me and I wanted to read her words. She's a traveller and humanitarian as well as a gifted author, and her journey from charity work to the bookstore and back again is an inspiring example of someone living their purpose—Deborah has solved her own equation for why and lives it completely. She talks more about that in our interview here.

Why I couldn’t put it down

My emotional investment in these characters happened incredibly quickly; within a few pages of meeting Charlie, Bea, Lizbeth and Senzey, I wanted each of them to find a happy ending—whatever that may have looked like. I loved the switches between points of view, which worked to deepen the reader's connection with each of the book's leads and give all four their times in the spotlight. Deborah masterfully took the unique circumstances of four main characters and weaved them together to form the tapestry of one beautiful, big-hearted story.

Why writers will want to read it

I am a long-time lover of fantasy fiction and what I look forward to most about diving into an epic series is the world-building: that immersive experience of going somewhere new, achievable only by the minute detail in setting and people and culture and politics that an author can afford to share in stories that span multiple books. Contemporary fiction is my other favourite genre, and these stories I read for shorter, faster-paced forays into worlds that more closely represent my own. With this book, I felt as though I got the best of both genres. What writers will take away from reading Island on the Edge of the World is how well and economically Deborah builds the world of Haiti, fleshing out the picture of its colours and energies and people with spot-on description, dialogue and imagery that fits perfectly within the definition of contemporary fiction but has the feeling of a much bigger tale.

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