The second Boxcar Children book came out 25 years after the original. That's a looong time to wait for a sequel.
The book begins with a surprise. Grandfather owns an abandoned island, and he's decided that the boxcar children can spend the summer there, living inside an old barn. If I didn't know any better, I'd say he doesn't like his grandkids.
A sailor named Captain Daniel lives on the island. He doesn't show up all that much; his only purpose in life is to give the kids groceries from the mainland, so they don't starve to death.
The important character is the captain's roommate, a mystery man named Joe. Joe has amnesia, because he broke his arm. Um...HOW does that work, exactly? Arm-breaking amnesia?
Joe's amnesia has been cured, but he still hasn't rejoined society yet, because his arm kinda hurts. Sort of a weak excuse to hide out on an abandoned island, if you ask me. Anyway, the mystery of the book is to figure out who Joe is!
The kids set up house in the barn, and they get settled on the island. They make friends with Joe, and we get Clue #1: Joe knows the name of a type of seaweed. Oh my, a seaweed mystery. How mysterious.
Henry gets an idea: they should start a museum! The museum will showcase all the birds and flowers on the island. Not sue why you would make a museum for an abandoned island, but the Boxcar Children are very excited, and they put a lot of work into building the museum on the top floor of the barn.
Joe goes to the library to get books for the kids, and the mystery deepens when Joe gets books straight from the shelves, instead of asking the librarian where the books are. It's like...he's been to a library before!!! *dun dun dun*
The kids explore the island and find a cave that's filled with interesting stuff. Joe recognizes these items as Indian artifacts. Clue #3, Joe knows a lot about Indians. Have you figured out his secret identity yet, detectives?
I should note that all throughout the book, we have short, one-chapter adventures, like the kids searching for clams and the kids checking lobster traps.
In one chapter, Violet decides she wants to learn how to play violin, but she gets conflicted, because if she takes lessons, it means she can't be with her brothers and sister all the time. I felt like I should mention this, because it's basically the first time Violet has been interesting.
Grandfather visits the island, to make sure the kids are still alive. It turns out that when HE visited the island as a boy, he made his own museum! Today, it's a full-blown museum in the middle of town. So being boring runs in the family!
You might have noticed the Boxcar Children aren't even TRYING to solve the Joe mystery, anymore. At this rate, they'll never figure out who the guy is. So in order to solve the mystery, the book introduces a man named Mr. Browning. Browning says outright that Joe is...
Wait, before the big revelation, let's review the various clues about Joe's identity.
#1. He knows about seaweed.
#2. He knows where library books are.
#3. He knows a lot about Indians.
Figured it out? Joe is the director of Grandfather's museum! And more than that, he's the Boxcar Children's long-lost cousin. Because hey, why not? They've got a cousin now. Not sure why he wasn't mentioned in the previous book, when the family had a custody debate over the orphaned kids, but whatever!
The book ends with a birthday party for Benny. Joe reunites with Grandfather. Grandfather is so happy that Joe is still alive, he overlooks the fact that Joe disappeared for a year, for no real reason.
After this, the Boxcar Children go home at the end of summer, and Grandfather blatantly sets up the storyline for the next book in the series.
This book is not much of a mystery. It's kind of impossible to guess that Joe is a cousin who has never been mentioned before, ever. Instead of calling it a mystery, I'd say this book is more of a continuation of the first book.
It's just a collection of fun, short episodes about four kids, living on their own. And in that sense, it's really good. I liked it. In fact, when I read these books as a kid, I was kind of disappointed that the series turned into mysteries after this book. I liked seeing them have adventures by themselves!
Now that I'm older...my main reaction to the book is wow, Grandfather is super-negligent. He abandons his kids, so they can live in a barn all summer. The kids are sleeping in old hay instead of beds, and the roof leaks. These are not safe living conditions for children!
Here's something fun. The one person who knows Joe's identity is Dr. Moore. The guy who refused to tell Grandfather about his kids in the first book? Yeah, once again, he's keeping people's secrets for no reason. I suspect Dr. Moore will become a villain in later books.
Overall, I liked this book. It's a worthy sequel, in that it's longer and more interesting than the original. I give Boxcar Children 2, Surprise Island, a 9 out of 10.