Notice: All forms on this website are temporarily down for maintenance. You will not be able to complete a form to request information or a resource. We apologize for any inconvenience and will reactivate the forms as soon as possible.

Island of Whispers


Readability Age Range



Year Published

Book Review

On the misty island of Merlack, the lingering dead will cause great harm if they’re not carried to a place where they can move on. And with his father’s murder, young Milo must take on the job … of the ferryman.

Plot Summary

It’s not that young Milo’s father was unloving. But he certainly was stern; a man who didn’t tolerate anything but a laser-like focus and total dedication. And well he should. His job demanded those qualities.

Milo’s father was the ferryman.

On the island of Merlack, spirits of the dead don’t react the same way that they do in other parts of the world. On Merlack, they linger. And if they can find their shoes, they’ll roam endlessly and cause trouble.

To ferry the spirits to freedom, you must be able to sense the spirits without seeing them; feel their need for release without listening. You must be serious, stern, almost unfeeling. For if you let yourself wonder about them or imagine how they might feel, you leave yourself open. Your mind might pick up their voices, fill in the gaps, and understand their words. And that would spell disaster.

That’s why Milo’s father had always said that Milo was unsuited to replace him. Milo was intelligent and learned quickly. But he … cared too much. Milo worried over things.

Milo’s father did not have such weaknesses. And as such, he was the best ferryman.

However, that is the problem. He was the best ferryman. For now, Milo’s father is dead—murdered by a lordly father of a recently deceased daughter. The lord killed Milo’s father to keep his daughter here, thinking that magicians and their dark arts could bring the girl back.

So now the job of doing right by the dead falls to Milo. The boy must take the shoes of the recently dead (including his father’s own boots) and carry them to his father’s hidden-away ferry boat. When you take the shoes, the spirits always follow.

Milo senses them all following. Though he dares not look or even think too much about it. He must follow the remembered words of his father and somehow navigate a way to the Island of the Broken Tower where the just-behind-him spirits can be set free.

But as he racks his brain for what he does and doesn’t know; while he wonders what his father is thinking; while he worries over the lord following in the ship behind him; Milo begins to hear things.

And he fears that those sounds …  may sound like words.

Christian Beliefs

There’s no direct reference made to Christian faith here, but the story acknowledges the reality of a soul, and that a person’s spirit longs to go to a place of final rest.

Other Belief Systems

The above-mentioned souls are the focus of this tale. Young Milo wants to do right by those souls of people he knew and honor his father. The trip to do both those things reads like a myth from Aesop’s fables. And, in a way, the story points to a place of joy beyond the grief, loss and struggles of this life.

This fantasy world also contains magic. There’s a magical archway  between the world of the living and the dead, for instance, and magical white mist moths that appear from the frothing waves.

Dark magic is part of tale as well. When the grieving lord approaches Milo’s father and demands that his daughter’s spirit remain on Merlack, Milo’s father is aghast. “You’d trust your daughter’s soul to the promises of dark practitioners?” he asks. (The story certainly paints dabbling with magic and spirits of the dead—outside of the duty to ferry them—as a forbidden practice.)

The magicians cast spells that stir up winds, possess animals and cause others physical harm. Milo begins to understand the whispering spirits. But instead of letting them take over his mind, he’s able to use what he hears and sees as a way to later comfort grieving loved ones.

Authority Roles

Milo’s father is indeed stern. But we learn later that the man’s words to Milo were a way of protecting the boy. And when Milo begins to use his own strengths to do the ferryman’s job, he senses his father’s approval.

The local lord is another man of authority. And while his choices are anything but wise, we see that he is driven by a sense of guilt for wasting so much time that he should have spent with his loving daughter. That guilt and his great grief muddles his mind (another warning that this tale delivers).

Milo has a calm-minded older brother, Leif, who was supposed to take over the ferryman’s job. But he is beaten and held captive so that he can’t do it. When Milo eventually achieves his goals, Leif gives his younger brother his total support.

Profanity & Violence

The Island of Whispers also contains moments of peril and violence. Milo’s fear of letting the spirits overpower him is a constant until he comes to understand a few things about them. Magicians take control of headless birds and plot to create a headless girl (before being stopped). Sailors touch magical creatures that cause them to fall over, senseless. Men are forced to link arms and stay in perilous positions on the threat of death. A person touches the sand of a magical beach and falls over dead.

Sexual Content


Discussion Topics

This book is about a mythical ferryman who transports souls to the afterlife. But did it make you wonder about souls and spirits and how all of that fits in a biblical context?

Take a look at the following Scriptures: Genesis 2:7, Ezekiel 18:4, John 5:24 and John 3:16. What do you think God is trying to tell us about souls and the afterlife with verses like this?

This is also a story about Milo trying to do what’s right and growing into fulfilling a calling in his life. Do you think God calls us to specific choices and roles in life? Have you ever thought about what you may be called to do or be? How do you think you might discover a “calling”?

Additional Comments

Island of Whispers is a fable-like tale that asks young readers to think about the concepts of death, grief, choices and responsibility. It’s a compelling and immersive middle-school story.

That said, we also find non-biblical spirituality that may feel dark and ghostly to younger readers and need a bit of discussion from mindful adults.

You can request a review of a title you can’t find at [email protected].

Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not necessarily their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. The inclusion of a book’s review does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.

Review by Bob Hoose