They help us believe that magic is real, and in believing, we can unleash our own magical potential.
I am a huge fan of the Epic Books platform and I’m always excited when they come out with a new book. Donna Galanti’s Unicorn Island is once such book, filled with a mix of things that Epic has come to be recognized for, from gorgeous illustrations to exciting and fun stories. Like many of their chapter books, Unicorn Island is what I would call an episodic middlegrade novel.
So, an episodic middlegrade novel is the kind of book that, were it to be adapted into a television show, could equate to a single episode and not a whole season. This happens rather often with middlegrade, unlike young adult novels which could account for an entire season. Often episodic middlegrade novels have one major point to a plot and little else. Sometimes they have multiple major points, but each happens so quickly that the overall story feels like a short episode.
Unicorn Island has two major plot points; that of what main character Samantha’s uncle is up to and then the team banding together for an important mission. In essence, I think this book could equate to two episodes of a show at most. When it comes to books like these, they are excellent reads for young readers who are just getting into longer chapter books. They’re adventuresome and they’re quick.
A Word on the Plot and Characters
With episodic-like books, you speed through most of the adventure. Each move from one moment to another is fast and every plot twist is revealed just as quickly. This is done on purpose. The intent, of course, is to keep the young reader engaged every step of the way. And it’s very effective to remove the time possibility for disengagement. However, I do feel that this takes away from having an intentionally thoughtful novel. It doesn’t allow for a lot of time to develop nuanced thinking about the story because by the time you might do so, you’ve already moved on to the next plot point.
This is not to say these books are bad, of course. I’m actually quite fond of episodic middlegrade novels. But, I do think that they could be better.
Where Unicorn Island is concerned, it did feel rushed at times. More importantly, I hated the plot twist reveal at the end. It left absolutely no room for any mystery in the future, at least as far as the audience is concerned. In general, I’d consider it the equivalent of showing one’s hand in a poker game. And it basically revealed the entire plot for any future novels.
And, sometimes, this okay. There have been plenty of novels where something is revealed to the readers that the main characters are unaware of. But it has to be done well. Unfortunately, introducing a plot twist out of the blue with absolutely no build up or foreshadowing does not equate to doing this well.
Overall Cute, but Lacking
In general, I did enjoy the story. I think the overall ideas behind it all were wonderful and I loved the artwork. The writing could use some improvement, but the characters were excellent. It definitely falls into the category of middlegrade books that I wouldn’t mind recommending to young readers I know. But, at the same time, I the extremely fast pace and the poorly written plot twist at the end make me feel uninterested in reading the sequel.
I can recognize, however, that there is a lot of good in this book. There will likely be a lot of middlegrade readers who will deeply enjoy the characters and the story.
I was provided a free copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
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One thought on “Unicorn Island [Donna Galanti]”
Thanks so much for your in-depth review of Unicorn Island! I appreciate your time to read and review. The next book, Secret Beneath the Sand, comes out this May on the digital Epic! platform in a 5-part serial and then the hardcover compilation next winter 2022. The illustrator did indeed do an amazing job to bring the story to life with atmospheric imagery!