Published on January 27th, 2016 | by Carli Spina

Prison Island: A Graphic Memoir Review


Prison Island: A Graphic Memoir

Author & Illustrator: Colleen Frakes

Publisher: Zest Books

Colleen Frakes’ childhood wasn’t quite like other people’s. She grew up on McNeil Island in Washington state, which might not sound that unusual, until you realize that during her time there McNeil Island was a prison island. Accessible only by plane or boat, the island had nothing other than a prison – no restaurants, no stores, no movie theaters, nothing. As an adult, when Frakes learns that the island is about to be closed, she returns with her family to see the closing ceremonies and explore one last time. This book alternates between that visit and her childhood to paint a picture of life as a child on the island.

The book manages to show how Frakes and her family had a life that was filled with normal concerns as well as a whole bevy of concerns that were unique to living on a prison island. Most readers have probably felt out of place in middle school, but likely few have commuted to school from an island. Many may have told ghost stories at their teenage birthday parties, but most of those stories probably weren’t set on the remote island where they lived. And, very few readers probably had a birthday party that was almost cancelled due to an escaped prisoner and a lockdown notice.

By moving back and forth from modern day to her childhood, Frakes has a chance to delve into the history and geography of the island as well as telling her personal story. These elements of the book work well together, though some readers may want to know more details about some of the historical points that are mentioned. Frakes’ artwork is fun and engaging, though it doesn’t aim for ultra realistic representations of the island or its inhabitants. It will, however, appeal to fans of Liz Prince’s style of art.

Prison Island is a good book to recommend to graphic memoir fans. It may also appeal to history buffs, though those with an interest primarily in this aspect of the book will want to follow up with the items Frakes includes in the bibliography. This is very suitable for library collections, assuming your library has a community interested in memoirs and nonfiction graphic novels.


About the Author

Carli Spina is an emerging technologies and research librarian at an academic library. She is a big fan of graphic novels, young adult and children's literature, and popular culture and writes about these topics for several blogs including the Horn Book's Lolly's Classroom blog and YALSA's The Hub blog. You can find her on Twitter as @CarliSpina or on her website at

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