This book is just downright fun. I picked it up because Elizabeth Haydon writes an AMAZING adult fantasy series (Symphony of Ages, if you want to look into that), and I wanted to see how her middle grade stands up against that. The answer I found: The Lost Journals of Ven Polypheme might actually be better than Symphony of Ages.
The Floating Island centers around a 50-year-old “Nain” (literally french for dwarf — very cool wordplay there) named Ven, who is just reaching his majority by his race’s standards. He is the son of a shipmaker and when he goes to inspect his father’s newest ship, he embarks on what seems to be a never-ending adventure full of twists, surprises, and magic. This feels like an old-fashioned, true adventure story to me, and it’s something I would have DEVOURED when I was twelve — mermaids, dwarves, pirates, kings, intrigue, revenants, magic — this book has everything I love about fantasy, and more. Even as an adult, I enjoyed it immensely. It’s well done in that it’s framed as a “true” story and these journals of Ven were recently discovered and gathered and published by the author. The narrative itself is interesting in that it switches between straight-up journal entries told from Ven’s perspective and regular narration. This definitely allowed the story to strike a balance between being fast-paced while also remaining true to the journal idea. The illustrations by Brett Helquist are great and add a lot to the story in terms of being able to imagine everything and giving credence to the journal idea.
My favorite part is how this story focuses on what it means to have a home, what friendship/family truly means, and how our lives are bettered by being surrounded by kind people. This is very much a coming of age story, and Ven is able to find his bravery in order to save his friends and stand up for what he thinks is right. He learns how to find out the truth and speak for himself, instead of just going along with whatever people tell him. It’s a great lesson for kids, especially as they find themselves growing up and also trying to figure out how to make their own decisions and be their own person. (And probably could help adults like myself be reminded of the important things in life.)
I can’t recommend this enough, I loved every second of reading this book and am very much looking forward to the sequel.