Into the Wild
Sarah Beth Durst
At the start of this fresh, fast-paced YA fantasy, middle-schooler Julie thinks life is pretty tough. She’s just not seeing eye-to-eye with her mother Rapunzel (yes, that Rapunzel — she runs a hair salon in our world), and she’s never known her father…or why her mother won’t speak of him. Plus, she has to contend with the Wild, an ominous mass of greenery which is confined to the space under her bed. But then Julie’s problems get a whole lot worse — the Wild escapes Julie and Rapunzel’s control, and starts to take over the city. Julie has to figure out a way to stop the Wild’s rapid growth before it takes over and the world as we know it is forever changed.
There are a couple of things in particular to like about this book. One is the idea of the Wild — that is, the fairy-tale world where the tales exist in actuality — as a creepy, dangerous place. Too often in the modern view of fairy tales, ‘faerie’ is seen as a cute and harmless place — definitely far from the traditional view! I enjoyed the fact that the author went back to a more traditional feel in her portrayal of the fairy-tale world, though she did it with her own unique spin. In Julie’s world, the primary danger of the Wild (aside from the fact that it’s full of ogres and death by torture) is that it takes over the will of persons who become entrapped in it, forcing them to relive fairy tales over and over. The author avoids mining this interesting concept for thematic complexity, which is probably just as well in a kids’ novel, but it does make for an exciting adventure as Julie tries to avoid getting trapped in a story! Durst writes a fun, inventive tale — in the beginning of the book, it’s entertaining to see all the famous fairy tale characters attempting to fit unobtrusively into the modern world, and the reader will want to keep turning the pages in order to find out how Julie’s story ends up.
The other notably good thing about this story is its emphasis on strong family relationships. Julie’s relationship with her mom is becoming strained at the beginning of the book due to typical middle-school angst and communication issues. She wishes every day that she had been able to know her father, and she squabbles with her adopted brother Puss-in-Boots and even her doting-yet-tough grandmother (the reformed Wicked Witch). But Julie really does love all of her family members, and as she learns more about them over the course of the story, she gains a new respect for both of her parents and a stronger recognition of her love for them. These themes made the book an uplifting as well as entertaining read.