Desert Isle Keeper
Imagine is the story of a wide variety of characters, all bottlenecked onto an island thanks to a shipwreck just before the turn of the 19th century. First of all there’s our hero and heroine – Margaret “Smitty” Smith, a hard-working attorney who was hoping to take a refreshing cruise in the South Seas, and Hank Wyatt, a former baseball player and wrongly-convicted prisoner, who had escaped jail and was a stowaway on Maggie’s ship, posing as a priest. It’s Hank who saves Maggie, as well as the orphans Lydia, Theodore and Annabelle. And a goat, who happens to be Lydia’s only friend and prized possession, the last vestige of her previous life. On the island the new family stumble upon an abandoned bottle, which happens to contain a genie named Muddy. The group manages to form a family and Hank and Smitty’s romance blossoms beautifully. Christmas passes, ball teams are formed, and Theodore and Muddy develop a friendship as Smitty and Hank banter. But with the children growing and Hank’s conviction looming over their heads, they all know their temporary island paradise won’t last forever. To return to San Francisco the children might have to give up their beloved friend, Hank might have to give up his freedom and Maggie might lose all three of the children to the legal system.
Barnett is at her best when she’s indulging in a bit of magical realism, whether it be while writing about bumbling witches or the natural magic adoring descendants of King Arthur. Call this one a mashup of the Swiss Family Robinson, Father Goose and any genie-related tale; but somehow Barnett is careful to make sure the story retains its own integrity, sense of humor and character. Smitty and Hank’s romance is easy to root for, as they both start to grow together into their own version of domestic bliss. Barnett manages to make the children seem fully realized human beings, and Muddy is a unique addition to the fold.
The author keeps you hoping they’ll be happily rescued; that Hank will find freedom and the family will stay together. The plot, the romance and the characterization meld together perfectly, forming the makings of a DIK.