What You’ll Find on Island of the Lost

I recently discovered the 2007 book Island of the Lost: Shipwrecked at the End of the World by Joan Druett, which I think makes for great summer reading.

I found it because I have been hunting for books to give my sons when they turn 16. I give the girls Kristin Lavransdatter and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn but I haven’t found the boy equivalent — great books that start to address adult subjects, but treat them with honesty and a moral vision. (If you have found such a book, let me know: thoopes@benedictine.edu is my email address.)

Island of the Lost is not quite that but it is definitely something I want my boys to read. It is a gripping account of a real shipwreck — with a handy second shipwreck to drive home its leadership lesson.

The book focuses on the 1864 wreck of The Grafton, and it affords all the pleasures of a shipwreck story. There is a motley crew, each with his own intriguing backstory which comes into play throughout the story. There is a careful inventory of the goods stashed aboard the fated boat, and we are aware at once of what they will not and will need when they wreck (the gun will come in handy, we know).

Then we set off on the ill-fated search for “argentiferous tin” beyond the southern tip of South America for an uneventful trip — until the storm sets in.

Once the wreck happens, we get what we expect: the fun of watching the crew’s ingenious way of retrieving items from their broken-down ship and their efforts to establish a beachhead on the island. Then we get what we don’t expect. The weather — and the tale — turns increasingly harsh. This is no tropical deserted island they have landed on; it is a harsh icy climate with very few options for food.

Just as “the awful inevitability of the appalling situation” sets in, we discover that there is another shipwreck on the same Auckland Island, only it is across an impassable mountain range. We get to see how  two groups handle nearly identical disasters. Our brave Captain Thomas Musgrave of The Grafton successfully organizes his survivors using camradarie, military order and religious exercises.

The captain and crew of The Ivercauld does everything wrong.

From the captain’s records, newspaper accounts and a crew member’s book, the author has put together a great tale of faith, hope and good leadership vs. bad with a very satisfying ending. It is a bonus that it all happens to be true.

Tom Hoopes

Tom Hoopes

Tom Hoopes, author of The Rosary of Saint John Paul II and The Fatima Family Handbook, is writer in residence at Benedictine College in Kansas and hosts The Extraordinary Story podcast about the life of Christ. A former reporter in the Washington, D.C., area, he served as press secretary of the U.S. House Ways & Means Committee Chairman and spent 10 years as executive editor of the National Catholic Register newspaper and Faith & Family magazine. His work frequently appears in Catholic publications such as Aleteia.org and the Register. He and his wife, April, have nine children and live in Atchison, Kansas.