The summer of 1986. Central Texas. William and his friends should be having a blast. Instead, they are hounded by the Thousand Oaks Gang and their merciless leader, Bloody Billy. William found Billy's backpack. And because of what it contains, Billy desperately wants it back, and he'll do anything to get it. William hatches a plan for his friends to sneak away and hide in an abandoned lake house, except they become stranded on the lake's desolate island without food or water. Will their time on the island devolve into chaos? Will the friends survive and be rescued?
The Benevolent Lords of Sometimes Island is Lord of the Flies meets The Body by Stephen King, the inspiration for the classic movie Stand By Me.
A gripping suspense story with adventure and danger, tinged with humorous banter between the four friends, the middle schoolers face certain death without adults to protect them from the unrelenting natural elements, as well as the wild creatures that lurk in the wilderness around the lake. With a backpack filled with money and marijuana they stole from the merciless gang leader, it's only a matter of time before the high schoolers come looking for them, too.
From award-winning writer Scott Semegran, The Benevolent Lords of Sometimes Island is his eighth book. This novel is Semegran's response to William Golding's 1954 novel Lord of the Flies, which was Golding's response to The Coral Island by R. M. Ballantyne, an adventure novel from 1858. All three novels tackle the premise of boys stranded on an island, with Semegran's novel taking a decidedly modern view of a group of friends in Central Texas during the summer of 1986 working to survive in a situation filled with danger and desperation with only each other to rely on.
Plot: This nostalgic, graceful coming-of-age adventure story centers on a group of friends whose discovery of a bag of money puts them in the crosshairs of a local gang.
Prose: Energetic, detailed, and endearing, Semegran's prose offers a graceful blend of youthfulness and adult retrospection, allowing readers to remain fully immersed in the unfolding adventure and the surefooted storytelling.
Originality: Readers will likely be reminded of classic coming-of-age stories (Stephen King's The Body is certain to come to mind), but this work remains fresh, soulful, and filled with enough danger to keep readers turning pages.
Character/Execution: Semegran excels at crafting vivid, realistic characters through sharp and nuanced descriptions. The narrator's warmth humor, and candor is a joy to read.
Date Submitted: July 28, 2020
Scott Semegran’s captivating novel, The Benevolent Lords of Sometimes Island, poses the question: what would happen if four pre-teen boys got stranded on an island? The author describes his book as a response to William Golding’s Lord of the Flies (which was Golding’s response to R.M. Ballantyne’s The Coral Island).The titular “benevolent lords” refers to four best friends: William, Randy, Miguel and Brian. In the summer of 1986, they are soon-to-be eighth graders trying to avoid the Thousand Oaks gang—high school bullies named for their suburban neighborhood.One day, they are chased by the gang. As the police arrive, they manage to make off with the ringleader’s backpack, which is filled with money and drugs. Later, on a boating excursion, they find themselves again running from the gang and eventually end up stranded on Sometimes Island without food or water. This set-up recalls Lord of the Flies, but whereas Golding’s story ends in chaos and death, here the boys support each other as they face challenges and deal with the consequences of their actions.Semegran has a delightful voice, which shines through as the adult William tells the story. William’s wry, astute observations are worth the read alone. Of a friend who said his mother probably wouldn’t let him go camping, but shows up with a backpack nonetheless, William notes: “Sometimes he spoke like a pessimist, but his actions usually screamed optimism.”Far from cookie-cutter, the characters are unique and ethnically diverse (one friend is black, another Latino). Readers will find these true friends who have each other’s backs immensely endearing. As the tension and sense of danger slowly builds, readers become utterly immersed in the author’s world and are left wanting more by book’s end.
This well-crafted story will appeal to anyone who grew up in the ’80s. Fans of Stand by Me will also enjoy this trip back in time. Although at times wistful, it’s not a purely nostalgic ode to growing up, but a genuine, moving and irresistible meditation on the value of friendship.
4.9 out of 5 Stars
Four friends, collectively known as the "Benevolent Lords," are chased to an abandoned house by a ferocious gang of teenage drug dealers. While isolated and on the lamb, the Benevolent Lords learn the power of friendship, loyalty, and unity.
THE BENEVOLENT LORDS OF SOMETIMES ISLAND by Scott Semegran is a coming-of-age thriller that, in its own way, offers a positive critique of William Golding’s bleak, LORD OF THE FLIES. Instead of creating a cutthroat colony dominated by social Darwinism and pagan bloodthirstiness, THE BENEVOLENT LORDS OF SOMETIMES ISLAND instead shows the power of friendship and its ability to uphold moral virtues.
Set in the hot summer of 1986, the story focuses on four best friends—William Flynn, Randy Moss, Brian Johnson, and Miguel Gonzalez. These seventh (soon to be eighth) graders are average kids growing up in Converse, Texas, a cozy suburb of San Antonio. However, all is not well in Converse. The suburb is ruled by a vicious youth group called the Thousand Oaks gang. The “benevolent lords,” the nickname for the four friends at the heart of the yarn, run afoul of the Thousand Oaks thugs and their leader, “Bloody Billy.” Things take a mighty interesting turn when, following their retreat in the face of a school security guard, the Thousand Oaks boys leave behind a backpack. William, the novel’s narrator, scoops up the item and shows it off to his friends. It turns out to contain marijuana and lots of illicit cash. In order to avoid a pummeling from Bloody Billy, the boys decide to hideout at an abandoned house in Canyon Lake, an indisputably spooky location.
THE BENEVOLENT LORDS OF SOMETIMES ISLAND is a well-written, neo-classical adventure story with a heart of gold. The boys represent a cross-section of American society: there is an African American, a Latino, and two Anglos. Some are Catholic, while others are Protestant. More to the point, each boy is given unique characteristics, such as Miguel’s love of history or William’s dreams of becoming a writer and artist. All is told through the eyes of an adult William, who uses his words and reminiscence to paint a nostalgic picture of what could have been a massacre. The tale is a nice antidote to fatalistic fiction and although its story has the hallmarks of a dark and foreboding thriller, Semegran’s cheerful writing and clear love of his young characters helps the idealism of innocence to shine through.
THE BENEVOLENT LORDS OF SOMETIMES ISLAND is a fantastic coming-of-age thriller that puts a positive spin on troubled adolescence.
~Benjamin Welton for IndieReader
This is an absorbing, nostalgic, and polished story that will likely find its readership.
An entertaining, if somewhat lightweight, coming-of-age adventure.
Sharply drawn characters in an engaging, suspenseful coming-of-age tale
In May of 1986, William Flynn and his three closest friends—Randy Moss, Brian Johnson, and Miguel Gonzalez—are finishing up seventh grade in Converse, Texas, a suburb northeast of San Antonio. One day, as the four friends are riding their bikes in a clearing behind the school, the local high-school gang, led by a bruiser called “Bloody Billy” (with “fists like boulders and veins in his neck the size of water hoses”), arrives for their usual sport of terrorizing the younger boys. On this day, a security guard from the school shows up, and the older boys take off, dropping a backpack during the getaway.
William scoops up the backpack as he and his friends scramble for a place to hide. Panting and terrified, the friends discover a bag of weed and cash in the pack. When the gang, “[t]heir random appearances [giving] them a mythological quality like sightings of sasquatch or Chupacabra,” comes for the boys, the friends hatch a plan to hide out in an abandoned house on Canyon Lake to ride out the storm.
The Benevolent Lords of Sometimes Island is the new novel from Austin’s Scott Semegran, whose novel To Squeeze a Prairie Dog won a silver medal in the 2019 Readers’ Favorite International Book Awards and is the 2019 Texas Author Project winner for adult fiction. The Benevolent Lords of Sometimes Island is a worthy follow-up, an ambitious, marked progression in his maturation as an author of literary fiction.
Semegran’s cast is diverse and sharply drawn. They are Anglo, African American, and Latino; economically struggling and well off; victims of abusive relationships and beneficiaries of solid marriages; Catholic, protestant, and none-of-the-above. William aspires to art and writing; Randy polishes his comedy routine; Brian is working on his Eagle Scout certification; Miguel is an earnest boy with a passion for history.
The story of the Benevolent Lords is related through William’s first-person narration, with occasional asides speaking directly to the reader, looking back from an adult perspective. The action is fast and evenly paced.
Semegran’s nostalgia, a longing for the days when kids weren’t monitored and surveilled twenty-four-seven and friendship felt primal, is a constant presence. Happily, he doesn’t let the emotion become maudlin. For example, he conjures the middle-school cafeteria with the “smell of bleach and reheated meat products, along with the stench of teenage hormones and body odor.”
The book will remind readers of Lord of the Flies and the movie Stand By Me (adapted from The Body, a Stephen King novella). As Semegran explains in an author’s note, Benevolent Lords was written in response to the aforementioned, in an effort to further “the literary conversation.” What if the boys were friends? How might those relationships change the outcome? Is breakdown and anarchy a foregone conclusion? Semegran thinks not, producing an elegant conclusion to his Benevolent Lords. In a tongue-in-cheek reference to Lord of the Flies, Randy says he didn’t finish the book—“too depressing.” The relationship among these friends is engaging, their interactions feeling authentically insecure and, simultaneously, wholly committed.
It's 1986 in Texas, and a war is being conducted by two groups of boys who find themselves stranded on an island with a battle raging between them.
The Benevolent Lords of Sometimes Island could serve as the poster child for a psychology class in group dynamics. Scott Semegran's story, narrated in the first person by young suburbanite William Flynn, adopts a sense of slow horror reminiscent of the approach of Stephen King. All appears frighteningly normal at first, but evolves into a dangerous situation cemented by adversity and isolation in a dangerous pairing of events.
The groups of middle school kids in question already harbor relationships 'as thick as thieves', as the young narrator observes. This lends to the dilemma as this close-knit band of buddies confronts something dangerously beyond their middle-America experience. Semegran's choice of voice for this narration is compelling, setting the story's unique feeling and atmosphere from the start: "Earlier, I said that middle school was the time in my life when I first experienced real danger, but I failed to recall a time in my life during elementary school when, in fact, I also experienced something quite dangerous. Sorry I didn’t mention it earlier, but that’s how it goes with memories sometimes. They can appear and disappear in your mind like fireflies dancing across your front lawn on a warm spring night."
Remember: this is a slow-building horror story. It takes the proper time to build moments of levity, play, and unsuspecting encounters into its percolating plot about dangerous changes and situations. This is one of the outstanding features that makes William's story feel compellingly realistic.
As events unfold and challenges evolve beyond the usual childhood conflicts, readers are treated to a crazy adventure involving the threat of the Thousand Oaks Gang, the added impact of a setting that encourages deadly truths to emerge, and the changing perspective of a middle grade boy well on his way to becoming an adult.
Semegran's cultivation of a first-person voice that is evocative and compelling drives the story line and makes for an absorbing read fueled by William's very real reactions to his changed life: "Here’s the thing about adulation for an introvert: it’s kryptonite. After about an hour of stares from strange students and congratulatory handshakes from grinning teachers, I was ready to cover myself in the sheet of anonymity that a ghostly wallflower like me enjoyed so much. Being anonymous is only truly appreciated after it’s gone. I guess if I learned anything that day, it was this: I didn’t want to be famous."
Middle grade leisure readers are in for a treat. Adult teachers and literary readers should also consider using some of the ideas in this story for classroom discussion, debate, and education, much as Lord of the Flies was used as an iconic literary representation of group dynamics.
It's a highly recommended, superb example of psychological twists and interpersonal encounters gone awry.
The Benevolent Lords of Sometimes Island is a work of fiction with suspense and literary themes and was penned by author Scott Semegran. Inspired by the work of William Golding on the classic Lord of the Flies, this novel takes us on a journey with a group of young boys who become stranded on an island and must fight for survival, either together or against one another. Woven into this classic set-up are the individual stories of the characters, as well as the central plot wherein leader William has acquired the very incriminating backpack of a teenage gang leader, Bloody Billy. What results is a tense action novel of survival, the hope of rescue and everything that lies in between.
Author Scott Semegran stretches his literary muscles in this highly accomplished and well-crafted read. It’s clear to see the influence of Golding in the piece, but its classic mid-1980s setting also gives it a rural Stephen King atmosphere, and with that comes true horror and tension in some of the most grisly moments of the boys’ ordeal. The atmospheric touches are a particular highlight, painting the scene for us as if we are there to experience every scrape and smell of the roughness of their new lives on the island. I also really enjoyed the dialogue, which seemed genuine to the ages of the boys and not at all precocious. Overall, The Benevolent Lords of Sometimes Island will give its readers a modern classic with layers of brand new intrigue and tension aplenty.
5 stars. Reviewed by K.C. Finn for Readers' Favorite
A page-turner…Inspired by Lord of the Flies, award-winning Semegran’s fabulous latest explores the theme of friendship, courage, and adolescent life in 1980s Texas. After William and his friends find their biggest nemesis and the leader of the merciless Thousand Oaks Gang Bloody Billy’s marijuana and cash-stuffed backpack, they see a perfect opportunity to settle scores. But the boys’ half-baked plan puts them in the middle of a desolate island without food and water. Equal part dense with intriguing backstories and atmospheric setting of 80s Texas town, Semegran skillfully manages his ensemble cast, interlacing their story lines and character introductions. He expertly uses language to give voice to his adolescent protagonists’ aspirations, fears, and insecurities while keeping the narrative drive strong with high-stake situations and action-packed twists. With his assured writing, tight plotting, and talent to fill a story with realistic details, Semegran has created another winner after his last outing (To Squeeze a Prairie Dog). A must read!
The Benevolent Lords of Sometimes Island is Shortlisted for the 2021 U.S. Selfies Book Awards as a Young Adult novel in the Children's Books category. The winner will be announced at 5:00pm during the American Library Association Annual Conference & Exhibition on Thursday, June 25, 2021. I would like to congratulate the other shortlisted books and their authors as well. Good luck to everyone!