CM . . .
. Volume XVI Number 4. . . .September 25, 2009
Gaia Wild. (Jane Ray’s Wildlife Rescue Series).
North Vancouver, BC: Walrus Books/Whitecap Books, 2008.
314 pp., pbk., $8.95.
Grades 7-11 / Ages 12-16.
Review by Meredith Snyder.
“You ever want to know what it means to be a wild animal? That – right there. No car crash, no sedative, no locked room more powerful than the call to be free.”
Impossible to catch, Avis’s words echoed in Jane’s head, even when they’re sick and need help. It’s no matter to them... they’d rather be free.
You’ll never forget it, Evie had said. No she never would.
By the beginning of her third environmental caper, teenage eco-heroine Jane Ray knows more about the connection between corruption, greed and animal cruelty than most adults do. Having tackled a negligent oil company and faced down the threat of the West Nile Virus, she has an almost supernatural sense for when something is amiss in the animal kingdom. So when a film company comes to Cedar’s Ridge to film Shapeshifter, Jane’s favourite series of novels, and she hears the anguished cry of a suffering elephant in the forest, Jane knows that trouble is afoot.
Fortunately for the animals, Jane and her best friends can’t let a call for help go unanswered, and with Jane’s ecological expertise, Amy’s ability to engineer complicated equipment from household objects, and Flory’s flair for research, they couldn’t have better champions. The three friends’ landing jobs as production assistants allows them to infiltrate the film crew and be unimaginably close to Gaia, an elephant Jane remembers from a childhood visit to the Raincity Zoo. After a lifetime of discomfort, the elephant is unhappy and uncooperative, behaviours which her handlers respond to with ever-increasing abuse. Jane’s instinct is to protect the animal from her villainous keepers, but her investigations prove that the corruption goes much deeper. Anyone other than Jane Ray would find they had bitten off more than they could chew.
In Gaia Wild, Diane Haynes brings the plight of elephants around the world to light, showing how habitat loss, poaching, and exploitation threaten these beautiful animals. Haynes has done her research, and she does an excellent job presenting the material in a way that respects the curiosity and intelligence of teenagers. The book is a manual for activism, bringing youth who were fans of animal stories as children into the adult world in which big change begins at the local level. If, at times, Jane Ray and her friends seem larger-than-life, their accomplishments serve as a reminder that anyone can make a difference. A flip through Flory’s files online teaches readers how they can help vulnerable creatures and shows the real-world roots of Haynes’s over-the-top adventure stories.
If anything detracts from the narrative, it’s Jane’s messy emotional life. With adventure ruling the day, romance seems like a sloppy add-on, and the single-dimensionality of too-beautiful Noah and ever-distant Mike does little to justify their presence in the story. If Haynes is trying to force the story to fit the conventions of the young adult novel in which discovery, activism and knowledge take a backseat to relationships, she need not; the book is engaging on its own. Gaia Wild is a book for strong, curious, environmentally-conscious readers seeking a heroine who mirrors their own passion for the world around them.
Meredith Snyder is a teacher in Fredericton, NB.
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