Daniel Crowley has spent nearly all thirteen years of his life longing to get onto the mysterious island in the river near his hometown. Some say the island is haunted; others that it is guarded by enormous snakes. Daniel does not care. He is simply looking for adventure and for a place where no one has ever told a lie. Why? Because when Daniel tries to lie he becomes physically ill, and it is hard to make friends when no one trusts you to keep a secret.
Meanwhile, Emily arrives with the refugees fleeing to the countryside to escape government oppression. Emily stays with her grandmother, Birdey, an eccentric woman who knows the mystery of the island. Emily, Daniel and Daniel’s younger brother Wesley discover the way onto the island with the help of a map from Emily’s mother. In the process, they unwittingly open this formerly protected sanctuary to the soldiers occupying their town.
Roderick Townley weaves small town gossip, government tyranny and fantasy into a suspenseful story. Daniel is an upright, sincere boy who demonstrates concern for others at all times. He and Wesley are loyal to their parents and each other; the warmth of the Crowley family encompasses neighbors and strangers alike. Two small details that may not be appropriate for younger readers should be noted. First, Emily’s mother is executed by a firing squad, though the incident is not described in great detail. Secondly, Emily uses a vulgarity that is shocking coming from a thirteen year old.