________________ CM . . . . Volume XXII Number 9. . . .October 30, 2015


Nowhere Wild.

Joe Beernink.
Toronto, ON: HarperCollins Canada, 2015.
296 pp., hard cover, $19.99.
ISBN 978-1-44342-243-7.

Grades 8-11 / Ages 13-16.

Review by Joan Marshall.

*** /4

Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy.


He should have returned by now.

What if something had happened to him?

What if he’d gotten hurt?

She pocketed the sling and set off through the bush to follow him.

It didn’t take long to reach the opposite side of the peninsula. There was no sign of Jake. The spot by the cedar tree was vacant, but a multitude of hoofprints in the area suggested it was a popular hangout for the antlered kind. On a nearby leaf a spot of blood proved that Jake had at least grazed the deer – unless it was Jake’s blood. Izzy shook the thought from her head.

Izzy’s view drifted out over the water, where the waves still rolled and broke, though the rain seemed to have slackened, and the wind calmed. She could almost see to where they had set in just a few hours before.

In the distance, a shadow broke over the crest of a wave. Izzy strained to make it out. It disappeared into the next trough, then re-appeared a moment later, riding the next crest.

In the instant before it vanished back into the gap between the waves, Izzy knew exactly what – or rather
who – it was. Her stomach lurched. Sweat formed beads on her forehead. A knot lodged in her throat. She watched a moment longer, then turned, and sprinted back to the canoe.


In Thompson, Manitoba, a deadly flu has struck the population, killing nearly everyone. Communication lines break down, and looting is the precursor to an unprecedented return to savagery. Izzy, 13, survives a gang attack but loses track of her older sister Angie and is led into the wilderness by former neighbour Rick, an expert in bush survival. As the winter progresses, Rick’s control and viciousness surface, and he begins his nightly sexual assaults on Izzy. Meanwhile, unaware of the flu plague, 16-year-old Jake and his parents and grandfather await the bush plane that is to return them to civilization from an idyllic northern lake vacation. When the plane never arrives and Jake’s mother becomes ill from an infected cut, his father canoes out for help, leaving Jake in charge. Jake’s mother dies, and then later his grandfather also dies while his father never returns. Jake finally sets out by foot through the wilderness to seek help at Laroque, a small town which he is sure he can reach. Jake’s joy at finding Rick and Izzy and his father’s canoe is short-lived as from a distance he watches Rick beating Izzy. When Rick disappears into the cabin and Izzy appears to be trying to drown herself, Jake grabs the canoe, drags Izzy out of the water and sets off with Rick is pursuit. Although Izzy and Jake elude Rick at first, he eventually catches up with them, and, in a blood soaked battle, it is Izzy who finally kills Rick with a well-placed stone from her slingshot. They are rescued by local Thompson residents who know them and who tell Izzy that Angie is alive and has been looking everywhere for her.

     Young Izzy, a powerful character mourning her parents and her sister, uses all of her strength to survive not only the wilderness and all it throws at her, but also Rick, the former neighbour upon whom she must rely in spite of his ugly assaults. Izzy is smart and resourceful, learning bush skills from Rick while she secretly fashions a slingshot and masters its killing capacity. It is only when she thinks she will never be rescued that Izzy contemplates suicide. Initially suspicious of Jake and terrified that she will be hurt again, Izzy is determined to leave him and continue on her own, but gradually she begins to trust the compassionate and knowledgeable Jake. Jake is horrified by Izzy’s situation and is very patient with her as he strives to establish a relationship of trust. Jake is also mourning and determined to find his father, an issue that is not resolved in the book. Jake’s aboriginal background and camping experience stand him in good stead in the wilderness. Familiar with guns, hunting and canoeing, Jake is flabbergasted at the extent of the flu and doesn’t adjust to it as quickly as Izzy had to. Jake continually draws on the lessons of his father and grandfather for sustaining his strength and assuring his and Izzy’s survival. Rick’s prodigious bush knowledge is overwhelmed by his casual, creepy sexual assaults which, although not graphic, will stand readers’ hair on end.

     But the real main character in this novel is the northern Manitoba wilderness. From log blocked rivers full of dangerous currents to huffing bears, elusive deer, persistent rain and constant hunger, the human characters are at the mercy of nature. And nature is vicious. Readers who think they know camping will think again while city-based teens will be horrified by the danger inherent in the woods.

     The main theme of Nowhere Wild is survival, from mourning the death of relatives, to physical survival in the bush, to the nature of how to survive abusive attacks. There is much fodder for discussion here, and this novel would fit well in a literature circle about survival.

     The novel jumps back and forth in short chapters between the situations in which Jake and Izzy find themselves. The action is intense and never lets up. Descriptions of the wilderness are detailed and graphic while dialogue between characters is up-to-date and realistic.

     Nowhere Wild will be popular with outdoor enthusiasts and readers of post-apocalyptic fiction.


Joan Marshall is a Winnipeg, MB, bookseller.

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

Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.
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