Book review

Ryland's Footsteps by Sally Prue (2003)

Have you ever wished you were someone else?

What is it exactly, that makes you you?

You may not much like some of the physical attributes that you have inherited from your parents, but by and large you are probably stuck with them. But what about your temperament? Is that inherited, or can you remould it if you don't like it? And what about your attitude and general approach to life? Does that spring from somewhere deep within yourself, or is it also simply learned from your parents and family?

That's what this book is about. It's about finding out which bits of yourself are up to you, and which bits are unavoidable.

Actually, Rye is a lot like his father, but as he grows up Rye finds he doesn't much care for what he sees. His father is the Governor of a remote island penal colony. He has an intellect as sharp as a razor, but is overweight and lumbering and has an overbearing manner which tolerates no argument. Well, who would want to grow up to be like that?

Rye stood at the top of the hill and the wind blew around him. He held his arms away from his sides and imagined the Governor part of him peeling off like a sloughed skin and being whipped away, far away, into the secret middle of the island where no one ever came. He imagined one of the great salamanders stalking it and tearing it to slow shreds with its little teeth.
Rye drew a deep breath.
Now he was a new person.
A new person, fresh-minted.
What was the new person going to do?

There aren't so many examples to choose from on the island where Rye lives. There is Kris, the son of the native Offlander leader. The Offlanders have lived on the island for a thousand years, worshipping their gods and practising their magic. Kris spends a lot of his time with his father learning the lore of his people:

Just like his dad.
Just like his dad.

When Rye realises that Kris is locked into his own inheritance in just the same way that Rye is, it is a bitter moment:

Rye could have wept with the waste of it. They were all chained down. Every child was where it was, what it was, because of its parents; not one ever got the chance to start afresh, to be itself. By the time it could be free of its parents it was warped, spoiled, corrupted, by a million examples, and a million orders, and a thousand bits of attention and neglect and reward and punishment.

As time passes Rye begins to see that his father is not making an unqualified success of the island colony. The Governor brings with him a consuming drive to modernize, but at too high a cost. He tramples on the beliefs of the local people, the temples of their gods, and destroys the native ecology. But nor is it clear that Kris' father has all the answers for the running of the island either:

What is needed is a mutual respect, for the people to pull together and pool their expertise. Only as Rye begins to comprehend the solution to the problem on the large scale can he begin to apply the same solution to his own personal relationship with his family.

Does he succeed? You'd better read the book. Highly recommended!

What can I read next?

If you enjoy Ryland's Footsteps you're in luck because Sally Prue has written two other titles which I am sure you will enjoy:

If you are interested in the problem of personal destiny you might like to look at this story by Louis Lowry, where Jonas struggles against the destiny laid down for him by others:

Or you might like to look at this surprisingly searching story about identity by Jacqueline Wilson in which April has to work hard to find out who she is:

On the other hand, if you enjoy watching your characters struggle under the weight of unknown and malevolent curses you could have a look at this brilliant story by Louis Sachar:

And of course, there is the fantasy trilogy His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman in which Lyra and Will resolve to take responsibility for their own actions:

Also, the Bookchooser has found these books with a similar profile:

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