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  • Written by Ann Halam
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  • Written by Ann Halam
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Written by Ann HalamAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Ann Halam

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On Sale: December 18, 2007
Pages: 272 | ISBN: 978-0-307-43331-2
Published by : Laurel Leaf RH Childrens Books
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Synopsis|Excerpt

Synopsis

Semi, Miranda, and Arnie are part of a group of 50 British Young Conservationists on their way to a wildlife conservation station deep in the rain forests of Ecuador. After a terrifying mid-air disaster and subsequent crash, these three are the sole survivors, stranded together on a deserted tropical island. Or so they think. Semi, Miranda, and Arnie stumble into the hands of Dr. Franklin, a mad scientist who’s been waiting for them, eager to use them as specimens for his experiments in genetic engineering.


From the Hardcover edition.

Excerpt

chapter one

We formed a small crowd in the big confused mass of travelers in the Miami airport departure lounge . . . most of us identified by Planet Savers T-shirts, Planet Savers baseball caps, Planet Savers jackets, or at least Planet Savers lapel buttons. We were going to spend the next three weeks together, fifty British Young Conservationists. We were prizewinners in a competition run by the Planet Savers TV program. Part of the time we'd be staying on a wildlife conservation station deep in the Ecuador rain forest; part of the time we'd be visiting the Galapagos Islands.

I'd enjoyed flying from Gatwick as an unaccompanied minor. It was the first time I'd been alone on a plane, but that hadn't frightened me at all. Now I was beginning to feel scared. I'd won a place on this trip by thinking up a biodiversity experiment about beetles. But I suppose I'm a typical nerd, good at the details, not very smart at seeing the larger picture. I'd gone in for the competition because I liked my science teacher, and it had been like doing any interesting piece of homework. I had not thought it through. I had never sat myself down and said to myself, "Hold on, Semirah, what if you win? You are shy. How are you going to survive for three weeks surrounded by total strangers?"

Two presenters from the Planet Savers TV program were coming with us--Neil Cannon and Georgie McCarthy. They were at the center of a chattering group, tall, thin Neil with his spiky ginger hair and freckly tan, Georgie with her glowing dark skin and her cheeky smile. Both of them looked very friendly and cheerful and genuine, the way they did on television. They were the only people I wanted to go up and talk to. They seemed like friends, because I'd seen them so often on TV. But I knew that was an illusion. Real life is different. So I walked about instead, counting my fellow prizewinners.

There were thirty-seven teenagers and ten adult organizers, including Neil and Georgie. There were actually fifty prizewinners, but the other thirteen were traveling on another flight. I decided I was in the rain forest already, or else in a zoo. Maybe I was a new young animal, freshly arrived, and I had to find the enclosure where I belonged. I spotted a baby giraffe; a wolf cub; a slinky green-eyed lizard; a couple of pointy-nosed, mischievous young lemurs; a pouchy-faced boy with tufty auburn hair who looked amazingly like a guinea pig, the kind with the fur sticking up in rosettes. There was one sad girl with big eyes and smooth fair hair sitting by a set of beige pigskin suitcases (while the rest of us had backpacks and nylon stuff-bags), who was like a baby seal--beautifully dressed and totally helpless. There was an awkward, gangly boy with a huge nose, carrying a fluorescent orange puffa jacket, who looked like a newborn wildebeest, stumbling over his own legs. There was a Very Cool Girl, with long black hair, long brown legs, black T-shirt, gray cutoff combats, and a battered rucksack that looked as if she'd borrowed it from Indiana Jones. . . . I couldn't think of an animal comparison for her. She didn't look lost or anxious at all. She must be one of the keepers.

But what kind of animal was I? I didn't know.

I walked all the way around the zoo, and then came back to a girl with a round face and fluffy hair, who looked like a baby owl. I like owls. I was about to say hello when along came Very Cool Girl, with her beautiful hair swinging. She smiled at me, and so did the baby owl. But oh no . . . My throat closed up. I simply could not speak. I can't talk to strangers! I swerved off, and pretended I'd been heading for a nearby drinks machine.

On the row of seats by the machine there was a big chunky pale boy with bristle-short dark hair, sitting by himself. You wouldn't have known he was one of us, except that he had a Planet Savers information pack lying facedown on top of his rucksack. I'd given up on the animal identities, so I didn't try to think of one; but I decided I'd sit down, not next to him but a couple of seats away, to drink my can of Coke. I would try to look casually inviting, and maybe we could strike up a conversation. I sat down, giving a sigh that might have been a sort of noncommittal half-hello. He looked up from the game he was playing on his GameBoy and stared at me, narrow-eyed. His expression said very clearly, I've got your number, Unpopular Girl. Stay away from me.

I am not unpopular. People like me when they get to know me. It's just that I'm chubby and shy, and maybe I work too hard, so I'm not very sociable. . . . I shrugged and walked away, trying not to feel insulted. But being glared at like that naturally didn't make me feel any better. I decided he was an animal after all; a bad-tempered, solitary kind of animal, liable to lash out and best not approached.

Our flight was delayed. I still hadn't managed to talk to a single person when we got on the little bus and were driven out onto the tarmac to board our charter plane. I'd spent most of my time reading a book (well away from the nasty boy). It was hot outside, even though it was evening by then. I remember looking around at all the gray tarmac and the planes, and the smoggy sky, and being glad I was going somewhere green and wild.

There was some swapping of seat allocations, as the lucky people who'd made friends arranged to get next to each other. I had no part of that. I was extremely surprised when I found I was going to be sitting with Very Cool Girl.

"Do you want the window?" she said. "I've got it, but I'd rather have the aisle."

I said yes, I would like the window; and we sat down, me thinking how sophisticated not to want to sit next to the window.

"My name's Miranda Fallow," she said, holding out her hand. I wasn't used to people shaking hands with me, but from Very Cool Girl it seemed adult and right.

"Howdeedoodah," I said, "I'm Semirah Garson, people call me Semi--"


From the Hardcover edition.
Ann Halam

About Ann Halam

Ann Halam - Dr. Franklin's Island

Photo © Trisha Purchas, Archer Photographers

“I love reading unexpected books, strange books, old books. Can I have a (waterproof) sea chest wash up, with a random selection of strange, old titles, fiction and nonfiction? . . . For this, I would trade my favorites.”–Ann Halam

In addition to writing children's books, Ann Halam writes adult science fiction and fantasy books under the name Gwyneth Jones.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

A CONVERSATION WITH ANN HALAM ON DR. FRANKLIN'S ISLAND

Q. Here’s an old question that is particularly appropriate and a good way to get to know you. If you were stranded on a desert island, whom would you want to be stranded with?
A.
My husband, and our cat. I’d say my son, too, but I think that would be tough on him. He’s fifteen . . . suppose we were there for years? I think he’d better have stayed at home, with his cat, and they can seek their fortunes together.

Q. Which books would you want to have?
A.
Remembrance of Things Past, Marcel Proust; The Tale of Genji, Murasaki Shikibu (Edward G. Seidensticker translation); Gravity’s Rainbow, Thomas Pynchon. These are my three bedside books. They’re all pretty long, especially Proust. I read them in turn and then start the cycle again. I’ve been doing this for many years. There’s so much in each of these great novels, I’ll never tire of them. Oh, and all the Moomin books [by Tove Jansson], which I love. Another idea . . . I love reading unexpected books, strange books, old books. Can I have a (waterproof) sea chest wash up, with a random selection of strange, old titles, fiction and nonfiction? In English or French. Or maybe some other language, only with a dictionary and a grammar for each language included in the collection, please. . . . For this, I would trade my favorites.

Q. What kinds of food would you crave?
A.
Parmesan cheese. Ice cream (not mixed together). And bread. Maybe I’d miss bread most keenly, because it is my staple food. Bread and cheese is my favorite everyday meal–with salad maybe, but I expect there’ll be some kind of edible greens. I don’t know how big this island is. If it’s big enough, and we’re there for long enough, we could figure out by trial and error which roots to dry or grass seeds to harvest, and beat them into flour. I bet we could manage something of that kind, but I wonder what we’d do for yeast. Maybe we could make a sourdough, with slightly turned coconut milk? Or goats’ milk. Are there goats?

Q. We’ll see what we can do about getting you some goats. In the meantime, tell us about your writing process. How do you begin?
A.
I start with an idea rather than an outline: a situation, a proposal, what they call in science fiction the “What if?” In the case of Dr. Franklin, I think the idea came because I’d seen teenage children’s fiction about magical transformations into animal forms, usually involving some kind of superpowers, and I’d been reading about the wilder possibilities of genetic engineering for other reasons. I thought, “What if you were to treat that theme realistically? What if you were to describe the process?” From there I went on to wonder why someone would be doing this, and because I’m interested in the future of space exploration, it dawned on me that this would be a reason. And maybe someone, sometime, is going to have to be the first to take that incredibly dangerous big step.

Q. When you write a book, do you know what’s going to happen, or do you develop the story as you go along?
A.
Before I start writing, I sit down with my idea and knock it into a story-arc shape: a series of events, happening to people, that will transform my situation into . . . another situation. I often feel I’m making huge changes when I actually write the book, but strangely (at least, it seems strange to me), I usually find that the sequence of events stays the same as in that first rough arc. The same things happen, but for more complicated reasons than I first imagined, if that makes sense. It’s the characters who make the difference. Miranda’s vulnerability and Semirah’s secret toughness developed like this, and enriched the plot–but these qualities are implicit in them from the start. You have to be tough to be shy (don’t ask me how I know this, I just know). I do a lot of revising and editing, right until the last minute. I find it very hard to let a book go, and I’m always convinced I can perfect every sentence even further, with a little more tinkering. But on the other hand, I instinctively value the passages that come “right first time” very highly: it’s a paradox.

Q. You tell us that Dr. Franklin’s Island was partly inspired by H. G. Wells’s The Island of Dr. Moreau. What did you draw from Wells’s story?
A.
Dr. Franklin’s Island is sort of an argument with The Island of Dr. Moreau. When I started thinking about my transformation story, The Island of Dr. Moreau immediately came to mind and set the scene on the “desert island”–the isolated place where the mad scientist could do his will, undisturbed by public opinion. When I reread the story, I found I didn’t like the ideas in it at all. This is different from not liking the story. I think it’s a great story, but I didn’t like H. G. Wells’s ideas about animal nature versus human nature. Part of what happens in Dr. Franklin (though this isn’t Dr. Franklin’s intention!) is the wonder and joy of being reunited with the animal kingdom, rediscovering the delight of being an animal, at home in the living world–but still this special kind of self-aware, conscious animal that is a human being. H. G. Wells comes to a very different conclusion about his “beast men.” I won’t try to explain it; read the story and make your own judgment. In short, I like H. G. Wells’s terrific stories, but I’m not much of an admirer of his opinions.

Q. A detail not provided in the novel is the reason why the plane crashed. Could you tell us now?
A.
It’s a lot harder than you’d think to be a good eyewitness, especially when you’re trying to remember what happened in an emergency. When Semirah and Miranda and Arnie are trying to decide what happened, on the beach, they can’t agree on a story, and that’s the way I’d like to leave it. When they realize that they can’t reach any rational explanation, it brings home their helplessness, and the way they’ve been dumped out of the world. One of the things I wanted to say in Dr. Franklin is that terrible things do happen, and the people who suffer often never find out the “real story.” “Why me?” is a question that doesn’t get answered. Maybe Semirah was wrong and there was no hijack, just a tragic accident. Or maybe it was all a setup, organized by Dr. Franklin. I don’t know everything that goes on in my books. If you want my opinion, I think there was a hijack attempt that failed, and it didn’t have anything to do with Dr. Franklin.

Q. Semi and Miranda develop a truly special friendship. Can you describe their relationship? What level of trust do they achieve? In the coda, does Semi reveal a sexual component to the relationship?
A.
I wondered about that myself. I think the possibility of a sexual relationship is there, but I don’t know if it would happen or not, and in ways I’ve a feeling it wouldn’t, because their intimacy has already been so deep without any sexual component. I think you’d have to follow them further, and it would depend a lot on the circumstances. I do believe, however, that for some people the most important, central relationship in their life is a friendship, maybe with someone of the same sex, but not a sexual relationship, and maybe that’s the way it will be with Miranda and Semirah. They’ll have romantic relationships, heterosexual or same-sex partners, families–but this lifelong friendship will always be stronger.

Q. Semi narrates the novel. We see everything through her eyes, and yet, up until her transformation, her vision is limited and often blurred. How much are we to trust her perceptions?
A.
Semi’s shortsighted because I am, and I remember coping without my contact lenses or eyeglasses in similar (though not so drastic) situations. I didn’t mean to make Semirah an untrustworthy narrator. I think she’s very trustworthy, precisely because she knows she’s not seeing the world clearly. She’s a scientist.

Q. You’ve created a character, Miranda, with remarkable instincts for survival in the wild. Most authors write from experience. Is it so with you? Are you as resourceful as she is? Have your survival skills ever been tested?
A.
I grew up on Swallows and Amazons [by Arthur Ransome] and other outdoor-adventure books, and we had a young uncle who took us camping and cooking in such corners of wild country as can be found in the urban northwest of England. I like living outdoors, and making do, and getting off the beaten path (but less of that now–wild country doesn’t need any more human explorers, not anywhere!). My skills are not great. I’m at the level where I’ve never really had to light a fire without matches, but I know how to build a fire that will light and burn easily; and I know to keep the matches wrapped in something totally waterproof. I’ve been in situations that could have got difficult, climbing mountains in Java, for instance, but I’ve never ended up in trouble. I’ve learned that in most places the wilderness is not out to get you (there are exceptions), and you’ll come to no serious harm if you just take care. I’ve been lucky, but keeping the rules is a good way to stay lucky–and I had the rules drilled into me at an early age.

Q. You have provided an antidote that allows Semi, Miranda, and Arnie to return to their human forms and be “normal” again. Did you consider any other endings?
A.
No, I didn’t. The “antidote” makes sense of the experiment, and I never intended Dr. Franklin to be a mad scientist in the gibbering-lunatic-monster category. I think the scary thing about him is that he is perfectly rational, on his own terms: he has a project, he’s not just flailing around. But the idea that they would be normal again at the end goes deeper than that. When I sit down to sort out my work plan for a book, I usually already have a final scene in mind (and it hardly ever changes). I was heading for that hotel room in Quito from a very early stage, and for the coda that comes after it. The book was going to end with Miranda and Semirah about to walk through the door that would take them back into the “normal” world: looking at each other, feeling that weird, paradoxical nostalgia for the terror and the ordeal. It’s equally important to me that they are left balanced, in between; passing for normal outside, no longer normal inside. “‘What are we?’ I ask Miranda. ‘Are we monsters? Or are we more than human?’” (p. 245). That’s the question I wanted to end with, and it’s a question about the future of being human, supposing the science of genetic engineering, gene therapy, really takes us where it seems it might take us. If they don’t “change back,” then there’s no implication for the future– they’re just fantasy creatures.

Q. You raise questions for your readers to consider about the ethical and moral boundaries of medical research. Where do you stand on this issue?
A.
I think in any field of human enterprise, what can be done, will be done, if there is profit or status to be gained. Arguments about morals and ethics have little effect on the cutting edge. Obviously, in real life, no sane person would perform such drastic life-threatening experiments on living human beings, willing volunteers or not. But who knows, maybe that’s only because in real life the kind of experiments that I’ve suggested aren’t possible . . . yet. The boundaries are always shifting, and the trouble is there’s no magic line that can’t be crossed. In the end, morality means stopping yourself from doing something you know is wrong (like torture, or marketing a killer addictive drug), no matter what you think you’ll gain from it. It’s called free will, and I revere it: but the you have to do it yourself, no one makes you part seems to be hard for a lot of people to grasp. They think, “Well, God didn’t strike me with a thunderbolt, so what’s the problem?”

Q. The names of two of your characters seem to have special meaning. Did you expect readers to make a connection between Dr. Franklin and Dr. Frankenstein? A.
Dr. Franklin isn’t meant to be Dr. Frankenstein. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein was wracked by doubt, and horribly remorseful (though he failed to do anything useful about his remorse). Dr. Franklin could never feel like that. Semirah is called after a newscaster on the TV in England. I just happened to notice her, and that she had a lovely smile. And I admired her because she was very young, obviously good at her job, and on the way up. That’s often how my characters get their names: quite by chance. Miranda is the one whose name has a special meaning, a double meaning. She’s someone who is admired (that’s what first defines her), and then she’s again the Miranda of The Tempest, in her role as the “daughter” who wants to believe that her “father’s” magic is noble and good.

Q. Semirah wonders in the end if Dr. Skinner will decide to carry on Dr. Franklin’s “great work.” But she doesn’t think he’d dare. Is this teenage naïveté?
A.
Maybe naïveté is too harsh. I think it’s a case of compartmentalizing: Semirah has just had enough, for the moment anyway. She’s putting the problem aside, and hoping for the best, until she’s strong enough to deal with it again. I’ve seen my son do this, and it’s a life skill I admire. I’m a pointless worrier myself. I don’t think Skinner will carry on Dr. Franklin’s work himself–he’s not the type, but he’ll probably try to find another “great man” to serve, and hand over all the experimental data. Like I said, I don’t know everything that goes on in my books, and I don’t tend to tie up all the loose ends. You walk into the characters’ lives, and then you walk out again, only knowing part of the story. . . . I can’t remember who said that, but it’s supposed to be a definition of what makes a good movie, and I like it.


PRAISE

DR. FRANKLIN'S ISLAND
“Halam delivers a nightmarish thriller of white-knuckle intensity.”–Publishers Weekly, Starred

“Halam creates a gripping, exciting, surprising, and disturbing novel.”—VOYA, Starred

“This exciting and well-developed book will appeal to fans of horror and adventure.”—School Library Journal

Praise | Awards

Praise

“Halam delivers a nightmarish thriller of white-knuckle intensity.”—Publishers Weekly, Starred

“Halam creates a gripping, exciting, surprising, and disturbing novel.”—VOYA, Starred

“This exciting and well-developed book will appeal to fans of horror and adventure.”—School Library Journal



From the Hardcover edition.

Awards

WINNER 2003 ALA Best Books for Young Adults
WINNER 2003 Texas TAYSHAS High School Reading List
NOMINEE 2004 Maryland--Black-Eyed Susan Children's Book List
Reader's Guide|About the Book|Discussion Questions|Suggestions

About the Book

This guide was prepared by Clifford Wohl, educational consultant.

About the Guide

A plane crash leaves Semi, Miranda, and Arnie stranded on a tropical island, totally alone. Or so they think. Dr. Franklin is a mad scientist who has set up his laboratory on the island, and the three teens are perfect subjects for his frightening experiments in genetic engineering.


“Halam delivers a nightmarish thriller of white-knuckle intensity.”—Publishers Weekly, Starred

Discussion Guides

1. At the start of the book, Semirah Garson (Semi) looks around at the people she is about to spend three weeks with in the Ecuadorian rain forest and on the Galápagos Islands. She makes judgments based on the way they look, and she stereotypes them. In your experience, how accurate are first impressions?

2. After the crash, the group tries to piece together exactly what happened. They soon find, though, that their stories do not match up. Semi says, “Miranda, who had been sitting next to me, did not remember what I had remembered. It seemed as if we’d been in two different plane crashes” (p. 15). What do the variations among Semi’s, Arnie’s, and Miranda’s recollections say about the reliability of eyewitness accounts? Talk about a time at school when you shared an experience with another student and each of you was sure your own description of the event was true–but your descriptions were totally different.

3. As they try to get their bearings after the crash, Miranda and Arnie argue about how to proceed. He wants to explore and look for help, while she insists that they set up camp and stay close to the wreck so Search and Rescue can find them. Who do you think has the correct approach? Miranda possesses many wilderness survival skills. What skills do you have? Would you have been able to survive on the island?

4. Referring to transgenic experiments, Dr. Skinner says, “We’ve had plenty of losses. And some survive in very twisted forms. But our goal is to take humanity beyond all the limits. Of course there’s a price to pay” (p. 72). What is the price Dr. Skinner refers to? Contemporary scientists continually debate the ethics of experimental research. How do we decide what is moral and immoral when it comes to scientific experimentation? Discuss human cloning and other scientific possibilities you’ve heard about.

5. Animal rights advocates have assailed drug companies for using animals in the development of new pharmaceuticals. They claim that subjecting animals to the pain and suffering that testing can cause is cruel. The drug companies contend that it is necessary for the betterment of mankind. What do you think? Is experimenting on animals an acceptable price to pay if it may lead to a drug that can cure a disease?

6. Dr. Skinner tells Semi and Miranda that Dr. Franklin is “a genius. He’s crazy, but he is a genius” (p. 75). The character of the mad scientist has been seen often in literature. How do you view scientists? Do you trust them? Do you see them the same way that Semi sees Dr. Franklin? Are there real-life Dr. Franklins?

7. Semi, Miranda, and Arnie are three very different people. Could any of them be your friend? With which one(s) would you like to be stranded on a desert island? Why?

8. “So, which do you want to be?” she whispered. “Fish or bird? . . . Do you want the freedom of the ocean? Or the sky?”
. . .“I’d rather be the fish, if I have to be one or the other.”
“Good,” said Miranda cheerfully. “Because I’ve always wanted to be able to fly. . . . I think I fancy being a hyacinth macaw.”
. . . “I want to be a shark,” I said firmly. “A great big great white shark, and I’ll bite Skinner’s bum.”
(p. 92).
If you were in their situation, what animal would you want to be?

9. Once they are transformed physically, Miranda and Semi begin to change psychologically. How do they change? Are you surprised by how happy they are?

10. Friendship is one of the themes of Dr. Franklin’s Island. Semi and Miranda might never have become friends if not for the plane crash. And it isn’t until their morale is at its lowest and they feel utterly defeated that they become true friends, rather than just allies. Talk about the way Semi and Miranda’s relationship develops. Does it resemble any of your friendships?

11. “I know that we can transform again. I believe it will happen, some way, somehow” (p. 247). When you read this coda, do you foresee a sequel to the story? What do you think would happen in a sequel?

Suggested Readings

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No Easy Answers–Short Stories About Teenagers Making Tough Choices
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Facing everything from computer blackmail, peer pressure, and gang violence to drug use and unwanted pregnancy, the characters in this anthology must make decisions that may affect the rest of their lives. There are many tough choices; there are no easy answers.

Brian’s Winter
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In Hatchet, thirteen-year-old Brian Robeson learned to survive alone in the Canadian wilderness, armed only with his hatchet. Finally, as millions of readers know, he was rescued at the end of the summer. But what if Brian hadn’t been rescued? What if he had been left to face his deadliest enemy–winter?


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