________________ CM . . . . Volume XIV Number 19 . . . . May 16, 2008



Roddy Doyle.
New York, NY: Arthur A. Levine Books (Distributed in Canada by Scholastic Canada), 2007.
211 pp., hardcover, $20.99.
ISBN 978-0-439-02356-6.

Subject Headings:           
Mothers-Juvenile fiction.
Dogsleding-Juvenile fiction.
Sled dogs-Juvenile fiction.
Finland-Juvenile fiction.

Grades 5-9 / Ages 10-14.

Review by Brianne Grant.

***½ /4


Gráinne left school two months before the Leaving Cert exams. She wouldn't go back. "You can't make me," she said. And that was the really terrifying bit: She was right. They couldn't make her. They just had to hope she'd be okay, that she'd calm down and become Gráinne again, their Gráinne. But for now, she was a different Gráinne. A monster, a big, horrible kid. A terrorist. It was after she threw the cup at Sandra that Frank suggested that Sandra and the boys needed a break. He wrapped the pieces in a newspaper. They could get away for a while, he said. It would be good for them. It might even be good for Frank and Gráinne to have the house to themselves. Like the old days.


Sandra and the boys, Tom and Johnny, leave Frank and Gráinne to go to northern Finland on a winter dog sledding safari and are captivated by the adventure to be had in the wilderness. Gráinne remains in Dublin where she reunites with her birth mother, and her father, Frank, patiently broods around the house hoping Gráinne's volatile teen angst will soon be a thing of the past. In chapters that alternate between the two narratives, Roddy Doyle has added a compelling family story within the fast pace of an adventure novel in Wilderness. By all appearances, this book looks like a straightforward outdoor adventure novel, and so I was shocked to discover Gráinne. Her moodiness, silences, hiding in her room, blasting her music – replace the Ramones with Pearl Jam, and I have a frightening look back at my own teen years. Although she is struggling to come to terms with seeing her birth mother for the first time in years, her character touches on a universal idea of what it means to be a teenager. Tom and Johnny's relationship also touches on a common dynamic of growing up, especially in a family. Tom is 10-years-old and often feels the need to compete with his 12-year-old brother, Johnny. As the younger brother, Tom is tired of being trumped and bettered by Johnny, and he struggles to be his own person while keeping up with his brother. Sandra and Frank are very much in the background as these children struggle to fit in the family and find their identity. The emotional and familial narratives of the book are driven by the short chapters and mounting drama of the adventure that Tom and Johnny embark on. One evening, they return to their hut to find Sandra has gone missing, and so the boys sneak away with a dog team to find her. They whip through the forest in the night while calling out her name. Their perilous adventure and boisterous characters make up the bulk of the storyline. Wilderness is fast read that is sprinkled with humour and would easily appeal to tween readers. The complicated family narrative makes this adventure an interesting read.

Highly Recommended.

Brianne Grant is a student in the Master of Arts in Children's Literature at the University of British Columbia and Executive Councillor-West for IBBY Canada.    

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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ISSN 1201-9364
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