Review: Damselfly by Chandra Prasad

Title: Damselfly
Author: Chandra Prasad
Genres: Adventure, Contemporary
Pages: 240
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Review Copy: Book received from publisher
Availability: Available now

Summary: In the wake of crash-landing on a deserted tropical island, a group of private-school teens must rely on their wits and one another to survive.

Having just survived a plane crash, Samantha Mishra finds herself isolated and injured in the thick of the jungle. She has no idea where she is or where anybody else is — she doesn’t even know if anybody else is alive. Once Sam connects with her best friend, Mel, and they locate the others, they set up camp and hope for rescue. But as the days pass, the survivors, all teammates on the Drake Rosemont fencing team, realize that they’re on their own — with the exception of a mysterious presence who taunts and threatens them. When their initial attempts to escape the island fail, the teens find they need to survive more than the jungle . . . they need to survive each other.

This taut novel, with a setting evocative of Lord of the Flies, is by turns cinematic and intimate, and always thought-provoking.

Review: This book includes self-harm, suicide attempts, body horror, eating disorders, domestic violence, drug abuse, (accidental) death, and murder. This review will spoil a character’s death.

I haven’t read Lord of the Flies since my sophomore year of high school, so my memories are exceptionally fuzzy. There are certainly references and homages I missed in Chandra Prasad’s Damselfly because of it, though with one notable exception, missing out won’t impact your reading much. I certainly liked Damselfly more than Lord of the Flies, and that’s largely due to Sam as our narrator. All of her memories/flashbacks to the time before the island allowed her and Mel (and even Rittika) to take on a personal depth I don’t remember any of the Lord of the Flies boys actually reaching.

Sam is particularly interesting—it’s not often a survival story is told from the point-of-view of a leader’s main support instead of the leader. Sam’s position is often as an observer or as someone caught between supporting her friend and craving recognition from other people. That push and pull, how easily Sam can be swayed, how she fumbles to figure out what her own boundaries are, are all great ways for Sam to discover her own faults and be honest (at least with herself) about them. That all provides a great contrast with Rittika and Mel, who are far more confident but on polar opposite sides.

But outside of those three (and Alexa, in Sam’s memories), most of the characters are incredibly flat. In fact, the boys appear to have made such a limited impression on the internet as a whole that I didn’t even realize there were going to be boys on the island. I do appreciate that Prasad diversified the cast and tackled race and class issues that would crop up at a predominantly white, exclusive private high school and between different cast members. I don’t like how everything was handled, but it was refreshing to see it addressed head on.

There is one thing I want to note that I would love to hear mentally ill readers’ opinions on. There are two mentally ill characters in Damselfly. Sam’s sister Alexa is one of them, and her character is granted a great deal of depth and screen time. What concerned me is the portrayal of the second mentally ill character, whose screen time is largely focused on the way she changes as she no longer has access to her medications, gets viciously bullied over it, and ends up dying as a direct result of her mental illness in a scene that struck me as far too close to “pretty dead girl.” I’m not equipped to talk about it further, but it’s something I thought should be pointed out.

Recommendation: If you’re a fan of Lord of the Flies, Prasad’s Damselfly is sure to intrigue you with its deconstruction and broadening of the original story. Damselfly is a quick read, though it suffers from how few characters are truly fleshed out. I quite enjoyed the ending, though I’m certain it isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. Otherwise, borrow it someday.

Extras

“Why Teachers Pair Classics with ‘Linked’ Young Adult Texts in the Classroom.”

“Author Chat with Chandra Prasad” at YA Books Central

“Why I Choose to Write Multiracial Characters” at TeenReads.com

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