The World Turtle exists in several cultures, namely the Mayan and Hindu cultures. The idea is that the world rests on the back of a giant, space-faring turtle. I first heard this myth about two and a half years ago, and was intrigued by the idea. It wasn't until I picked up a copy of Driftby M.K. Hutchins at the library and saw the beautiful cover, featuring a sea turtle with an island on its back, that the story came back to me, and I knew I just had to read this book.
Drift is a tough book to rate. On the one hand, once I started reading, I knew I wanted to finish, but there were some parts that made me squirm. Allow me to extrapolate my meaning.
The concept is certainly original and fresh. Inspired by Mayan mythology, villages exist on the backs of giant sea turtles, with one enormous tree growing out of the center of the turtle's back. Each turtle swims on the surface of Hell (in naga-infested waters) from coral reef to coral reef, grazing and feeding. If the turtle is eating well and often, crops are abundant on the island, and all is well. However, if a warring island's turtle is already at a reef, or if reefs are few and far in between, a turtle can go too long without proper sustenance, and then the crops on the island start to fail and the turtle becomes slower and weaker, making it vulnerable for a hostile take-over by another island.
The turtle island is tended by Handlers, Tenders, and artisans, all of whom live in or around the main Tree. Spread out across the island are cassava farmers, many of which are also "hubs" or "husbands." In this world, it is a shame for a man to marry and bear children; one, because it means he did not have the talent or skill to make it as an island care-taker, and two, because bearing children means the turtle has a heavier load to carry, thereby slowing it down, affecting both the health of the crops and the safety of the island.
Tenjat and his sister, Eflet, are orphans. Though Tenjat is a farmer, he is determined to do more; never would he condescend himself to become a filthy hub. Against Eflet's wishes, he enters training at the Tree to become a Handler. Then, life gets complicated. Island Guaji is starving, an approaching island seeks a hostile take-over, and the root-eating, blood-thirsty nagas are making matters worse. In the middle of this, Tenjat must deal with his growing attraction to Avi, his mentor, and his discovery of a life-changing family secret that Eflet holds. Can the island be saved? What is Eflet hiding? Does love have any place in a world where marriage and children are symbols of shame?
I do not typically choose to write a synopsis of the book in my review, but I feel the cover synopsis didn't quite do the job. There is, of course, a lot more to the story, but it's not my story to tell. On to my review...
The world-building in Drift was pretty darn wonderful in some parts, and lacking in others. As I read further, I could almost feel the Tree swaying with each stroke of the turtle's fins, smell the decaying cassava fields, and glimpse the fangs of the nagas in the swirling darkness of Hell. I almost wish I lived in a village on the back of a giant turtle (minus the nagas!) One disappointment was the logic behind the disgust towards those who chose to marry and bear children. It makes sense that more weight would slow the turtle down, but why were only farmers having children? If everyone in and around the Tree was so talented, why didn't they have children, to carry on the superior gene pool and further secure the protection of the island? Also, not everyone who marries has children. Why the disgust, then, towards everyone who married? Finally, where did all of these people think they came from?!
Unfortunately for this character fangirl, the characters in Drift left a lot to be desired. There's not one specific thing I can put my finger on, but I think I felt the characters to be too one-dimensional. Tenjat's constant hub-hating was grating on my nerves, especially since he was taken in by a "hub" when he was orphaned, and Eflet's unwavering goodness was too saccharine for my digestive system. I also felt that none of the characters, with the exception of a certain farmer and a certain little boy, ever went through any real heartache or trauma. I was happy to see the mindset of the community changing by the end of the book, but do feel that the ending was buttoned up rather nicely, and it all just felt a bit convenient.
There is definitely an odd religious feel to the plot, with Handlers and Tenders claiming their "treasures" from Deep Hell. The explanation for the existence of the nagas and imps is, actually, a little disturbing and rather confusing. And don't get me started on the "sacrifice" that both Eflet and Tenjat make when dealing with the nagas toward the end of the book. Suffice it to say that if anyone has suffered a miscarriage or stillborn baby, you may want to avoid this book purely for emotion-triggering reasons.
After reading my review, it may seem that I didn't like Drift enough to give it even three stars, but it does earn bonus points for originality and world-building, and for keeping me reading until the end with sustained interest. I say, you may want to give this one a try, even if just from a curiosity aspect. Many readers loved this book, and you may, too!