Reading The Only Ones felt a bit like dreaming. I flew through this book in just a few days, and always had a hard time putting it down, and when I finished, it felt like I had dreamt the whole thing. Starmer writes beautifully and compellingly, and I guess he sort of pulled me into this alternate world so well, I had to wake up from it when I was finished. I’m still not sure I have entirely woken up yet!
The Only Ones is about a boy, Martin Maple, who grows up on a small island with his father. Tourists come and go every summer, but Martin and his father only interact with each other, focusing much of their energy on building and rebuilding a mysterious machine. Martin can take apart and rebuild the machine, as his father has taught him, but he doesn’t know what the machine is for, what it can do. There is a missing piece, but he doesn’t know what it is.
Then one day his father leaves the island, promising to return before Martin’s 11th birthday. The birthday comes and goes, and Martin’s father doesn’t return. Tourist season comes and goes, and the tourists don’t come to the island. Martin finally decides he must leave the island to see what has happened, and discovers that, with the exception of a group of about 50 kids, all of the people in the world have disappeared without a trace. The kids who remain are all drawn mysteriously to a town they name Xibalba, where they create a society in which each child’s special talent or interest helps them all survive. But can they figure out a way to get their families back? Can they figure out what happened to make everyone disappear?
Part science fiction, part mystery, this well-crafted story was moving in ways I didn’t see coming. This is one that will stick with me for a long time.