Lighthouse Island

Lighthouse Island by Paulette JilesTitle: Lighthouse Island

Author: Paulette Jiles. She is the author of several novels, including Enemy Women.

Genre: Science-Fiction

Readers: Professor Michal, teacher Shannon, stay-at-home parents Colleen B. and Kristi.

Summary:  In the coming centuries the world’s population has exploded and covered the earth with cities, animals are nearly all gone and drought has taken over so that cloudy water is issued by the quart. There are no maps, no borders, no numbered years. On this urban planet the only relief from overcrowding and the harsh rule of the big Agencies is the television in every living space, with its dreams of vanished waterfalls and the promise of virtual vacations in green spaces, won by the lucky few.

It is an unwelcoming world for an orphan like Nadia Stepan. Abandoned by her parents on a crowded street when she was four, the little girl is shuttled from orphanage to orphanage, foster-family to foster-family. Nadia grows up dreaming of the vacation spot called Lighthouse Island, in a place called the Pacific Northwest. And beyond the confusion and overcrowding and the relentless television noise, comes a radio voice from an abandoned satellite that patiently reads, over and over, the great classical books of the world-Big Radio, a voice in the night that lifts Nadia out of the dull and perpetual Present. An opportunity for escape appears and Nadia takes it, abandoning everything to strike out for Lighthouse Island in a dangerous and sometimes comic adventure.

Our Take: Such a promising idea, but our readers are in agreement that the execution falls flat. We need solid worldbuilding in dystopian fiction and we never felt like we understood this one.


I was so excited when I was picked to read this book. I felt like the plot- a future where water is scare, government is autocratic, and a little girl hopes for a refuge- had so much to offer. Unfortunately, I found myself wanting. So much of the story felt disjointed. I didn’t fully understand the system of government and how society functioned. There was no way to measure the passage of time and oftentimes it would take me longer that it should to figure out approximately how old Nadia was supposed to be. Things would either work out wayyyy too easily or be much too complicated: there didn’t seem to be any middle ground. The parts that should have had a sense of urgency or fear or worry seemed too bland. And then, all too soon, it was over. The two main characters became secondary, barely mentioned characters, towards the end and then it was all over.

Grade: C



I had been excited about Lighthouse Island since I first heard about it several months ago, instantly drawn to the idea of a dystopian novel from an author with a literary background. While the mechanics of Jiles’s writing holds up, she struggles with coherent worldbuilding from the start, making it nearly impossible to feel connected to her characters. Because it was so difficult to understand the structure or history behind the world’s current state, it was also difficult to find meaning behind the choices the characters were making. Rather than feeling compelled to look deeper into the story and make connections – something I am more than willing to do if I feel those connections are there – I was both bored and frustrated. Jiles started with an exciting premise, but tried to explore too many trajectories when plotting out a dystopian future for her characters to live in.

Grade: D+



This book sounded very interesting. The world is so over populated that it has become one giant city. It hasn’t rained in over a hundred years and water is used to control the people. There was so much potential in this story. Sadly, I didn’t feel like it delivered. I enjoyed reading it, and I like the characters, but I found the overall story confusing. I always felt like I was just on the edge of understanding the world, but there was never quite enough information about how things worked to get a full picture. There were several times that circumstances came together so perfectly that it was unbelievable. Near the end of the book the author leaves the main characters and starts following a different group. I kept waiting for things to wrap up, for a sense that things were coming to an end. I never found it. The book ended very suddenly, and I was left wanting more. The book did draw me in, but I was left disappointed in the end.

Grade: C


Colleen B.

I was really excited to get the book.  I really enjoy books in the dystopian genre.  I have to say that for me, it was just OK.  The main plot of the novel is actually a wonderful idea.   Set in the future,  the water is mostly dried up, people are living on daily water rations, government controlling just about everything you can and can’t do, it could happen right?

Jiles created an concept that was pretty realistic but unfortunately the story itself fell extremely flat for me.  I wanted so much more out of the characters.  More emotions, more chemistry, more everything.

It also took me a good 5 or 6 chapters to really get into the feel of the book and the way it was written.  It was a but jumbled and not quite put together.  This book could have a lot of potential. More detail, more depth.

Grade: D

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