Compelling Survival Story Marred By Inexcusable Missed Details. As someone who cruises more than many – I’ve got over 100 days at sea with Carnival Cruise Line over the last 16 years and now routinely spent roughly two weeks per year at sea with them – I’ve been to Grand Turk several times. I’m even going back yet again on my next cruise in Fall 2023. I love the island, it is easily one of my favorite common ports in the Caribbean. And this is exactly what drew me to this book. The setting on and around Grand Turk in this book is truly amazing, for the most part it very much feels like you’re actually there, even in areas I’ve never experienced. If this book doesn’t make you want to get into the Caribbean ASAP, I’m not sure of anything short of Jimmy Buffett that could. Then, when the storm hits – the other factor that drew me into the book, as I’ve personally seen some of the devastation Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Maria wreaked across the Caribbean, and even had a cruise or two diverted to other ports because of the damage sustained where we were supposed to be going – the story shifts into survival mode, and here too the book is remarkably (mostly) realistic. Particularly for the isolation of the island if things truly go bad, as they tend to do during a Category 5 hurricane making a direct hit.
But it is that (mostly) during the survival section in particular that mars an otherwise truly amazing book.
Being someone that alternates her time between New England (Vermont, specifically) and Grand Turk, maybe, *maybe*, the author can be excused for claiming that a 9mm round “isn’t meant to kill”, as she does during the survival section here in one particularly tense moment. As someone who also owns a 9mm pistol… I can very much attest to the opposite – every single round in my 9mm *is* meant to be a kill shot, should I ever need it to become one, and every single round has the power to do so. Now, if you want to argue *shot placement*, as many in the online and IRL gun communities routinely do, fair game – but that isn’t what the author says in this particular passage.
The second major flaw is geographic in nature. Grand Turk is *tiny*, just 6 square miles in surface area, and at least some of that is water. The southern end is dominated by the cruise pier and the services needed to run it. Meaning the actual population of Grand Turk has even less area to live in. And one thing you can easily notice from the bigger ships that dock there in particular is just how *flat* Grand Turk is. If there is a hill bigger than *maybe* 10 feet tall, I’ve never noticed it in all my time on and at the island. And yet, in another sequence, Mehuron, who per her biography spends a fair amount of time actively living on the island, describes one particular journey is both arduous and up a significant hill. The problem is that the biggest “hill” on Grand Turk, even with putting some research in for this review, is no more than about 60 feet or so above the main elevation of the rest of the town there on Grand Turk. As a reference point, a particularly steep hill – among many in the area – just a street over from the house I spent my teens in in my hometown north of Atlanta, GA, is roughly twice as tall. And in a survival situation, I could be up that hill within minutes with minimal effort. Hell, I used to routinely ride my bicycle up it as a younger teenager.
So she gets a major point of geography completely wrong, and hell, maybe you’re arguing “artistic license”. Perhaps. My counter would be that the story didn’t need that particular element. There could have been other, much more realistic, impediments to that particular location to make it just as treacherous or perhaps even more so, without getting such a basic fact so blatantly wrong.
It is for both of the above errors combined that the single star is deducted, as while both are glaring and nonsensical, neither do they *completely* take away from the otherwise strong tale of life and survival told here.
Overall this actually was quite a compelling tale, one that takes the classic disaster format of showing life before, during, and after a disaster and uses it quite well indeed to showcase a particular setting remarkably well while also telling a story of a woman’s family and friends, and her overall community, within that framework. Very much recommended.
This review of The Belonger by Mary Kathleen Mehuron was originally written on May 29, 2023.