This guide was prepared by Clifford Wohl, educational consultant.
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
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?
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