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Thursday, March 24, 2016

Nowhere Wild, written by Joe Beernink. Harper, 2015. $19.99 ages 13 and up

"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 ... "

The results of a flu epidemic in Thompson, MB have a profound effect on the community. Most people have died. The survivors are bent on looting and doing their best to ensure that they make it, no matter the consequences. The gangs that roam the city are dangerous and threatening, and things are only getting worse.

Izzy survives an attack by one of the roving gangs. In doing so, she loses touch with her older sister Angie and must depend on a former neighbor to take her to a safe place. Rick is a survivalist, a parental figure and Izzy is thankful for his help, until she realizes that he is controlling and vicious, bent on making Izzy his slave both practically and sexually.

The epidemic has also affected Jake and his family. They are awaiting the arrival of a bush plane to take them home following a summer stay in a remote cabin. The plane does not return. In the meantime, an infected cut makes Jake's mother very sick and forces his father to canoe out for help, leaving Jake to care for his mother and grandfather. Both die before Jake's father returns. With little hope that he can make it alone, and having learned survival skills from his father and grandfather, Jake sets out for Laroque.

After long days on his own, he is excited to find his father's canoe near the cabin where Rick and Izzy are living - until he sees Rick beating Izzy and no sign of his father. Watching carefully, he takes an opportunity to steal the canoe, rescue Izzy and set off with Rick close on their heels. They are able to steer clear of him for a time. The chase seems endless and is terrifying. Eventually, Rick catches up to them. In the midst of a frightening altercation, Izzy uses her slingshot skills to end the pursuit, and Rick's life.

The characters are complex and compelling. Izzy is resourceful, strong and determined to make her own way to safety. She has difficulty trusting Jake, after all that she has lost. Jake understands her reluctance to trust him and is patient as he, too, deals with great loss. Rick inadvertently teaches Izzy many of the skills she will need for surviving in the bush. The northern Manitoba wilderness is carefully drawn to explore the dangers inherent in trying to find your way in such an unbelievably harsh environment.

Dramatic and  with a feeling of unease at every turn, this debut novel is sure to attract many teen readers with its story of love, loss, terror and ultimately, survival.

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