Where the Wilderness Lives

I was lucky enough to request and receive a copy of this from the publishers in exchange for an honest review. All views and opinions are my own.

Where the Wilderness Lives by Jess Butterworth, artwork by Rob Biddulph

Many of you will already know what a big fan I am of Jess’ other books (you can read my reviews here and here) and this one more than lived up to expectations.

Twelve year old Cara and her three younger siblings – six year old twins Bryn and Aria, and nine year old Enzo – live on a boat with their mother. When the canal is drained for cleaning, they find a locked safe. Intrigued and excited by what might be inside, they decide to keep it to try and open it.

But disaster strikes before they have chance and they soon find themselves fleeing, with their mum in hospital and a thief on their tail.

I wasn’t sure what to expect in some ways, as after books set in the Himalayas, Australia/India and Louisiana this one takes place much closer to home – in Wales. However, it was just as transportive and vividly depicted.

Nature plays a huge part, as you’d expect if you’re familiar with Jess’ writing. It feels like an education, exposing small treasures of nature hidden closer than we think in the world around us. Plants, animals and natural phenomena are described and detailed with wonder and respect as a natural part of the story, and environmental concerns and issues are part of the conversation throughout.

The way Jess threads a fairytale-style story through the book too with a paragraph or so at the start of each chapter also adds to the overall emphasis on nature – its bounty as well as its power, alongside both our responsibility for it and dependence on it. I thought this combined with the more contemporary aspects of the book gave a really nice balance and really suited the backdrop of the story.

Cara and her family live on a narrowboat and I loved the way life on the boat was depicted – I think the early chapters which set the scene of their life on ‘Newt’ are probably my favourite from the book, even though not much is really ‘happening’ yet and would make for the BEST cosy Autumn re-read (which is exactly what I intend to do!)

There’s no pretence that boat-living is easy, but it seemed satisfying, close and rewarding. The snug fireside games, books and general co-existence making up for the almost non-existent TV, for example. Being able to spot shooting stars and wildlife from your roof compensating for the cramped living space and non-negotiable, must-be-done-to-live chores. Jess spent several years living on a narrowboat and it shows – this aspect of the book especially is written with such fondness and insight.

Similarly, Cara’s struggles with other children also felt compassionately written with a real understanding, and my heart went out to her as she tries to deal with both their reaction to her living on a boat (or, more commonly and interestingly, their thoughts about it as she believes them to be), her own shyness and, most of all the bullying behaviour she finds herself on the receiving end of. I thought this especially was very well written, showing the way this sort of thing can be so insidious and the way the worry and uncertainty chip away unseen.

On the flipside of this is the gloriously close and caring relationship between Cara and her siblings and the blossom of hope that develops from an unlikely place in friendships she tentatively starts to make.

Both of these are really given chance to shine as we journey with Cara, her siblings and unlikely accomplice Keaton. And what a journey it is! By boat, train and then on foot we accompany them first in doggedly trying to escape from the thief who is hunting them down to retrieve ‘his’ safe – a heart-pounding, tense affair.

Then there’s the walking – taking a route only ever travelled by car before, they soon realise this way takes much longer. It is arduous – long and tiring, with dwindling food supplies and poorly equipped for the rough terrain and snowy, stormy weather; as their journey becomes more and more isolated, in worsening weather, I really began to worry for them. But the way in which Jess balances the set backs, dangers, risks and difficulties with the joys of being outdoors was wonderful, and there is never an absence of hope.

And, as with all of her books that – along with the wonder of nature – is the thread that runs through the book. There is always hope.

So many children will see themselves in this – those who’ve suffered bullying, found it hard to make friends or felt like an outsider especially, but also those with hearing loss (or relatives who have), those who’ve experienced a parental break up and those who’ve been wrapped in cotton wool. And for all of them there is positivity, hope and a sense of normality – this may be difficult at times, but it is not you.

Very much in keeping with Jess’ trademark style and themes, and once more with gorgeous artwork from Rob Biddulph as the icing on the cake; this is another brilliant adventure full of family bonds, tentative friendships, excitement, emotion, natural wonder and most of all heart.

Top Ten Tuesday…

Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and the Bookish and is now hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl.

I’ve seen this on a few blogs now and thought it would be fun to join in. This week it’s ten books…

… I love that have fewer than 2000 Goodreads ratings.

The Wolf, The Duck and The Mouse by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen

“I may have been swallowed, but I have no intention of being eaten.”

Hilarious and highly original.

There is a Tribe of Kids by Lane Smith

“There is a turn of turtles.”

A narrative of collective nouns (and stunning illustrations!).

Hansel and Gretel by Bethan Woollvin

“Because Willow was not ALWAYS a good witch.”

A witty take on the classic take with fantastically expressive and stylish illustrations. Read more here

Pea-Pod Lullaby by Glenda Millard and Stephen Michael King

“I am the small green pea, you are the tender pod.”

A beautiful, lyrical message of kindness in trying times.

The Murderer’s Ape by Jacob Wegelius

Sally Jones is not only a loyal friend, she’s also an extraordinary individual. She’s also an ape…

A dark, dry and utterly unique book. There’s nothing else like it.

The Skylark’s War by Hilary McKay

When the Great War breaks out, their lives are forever changed.

A classic in the making. A tale of growing up, family and war that is much more than the sum of its parts. Read more here.

The Legend of Podkin One-Ear (Five Realms book 1) by Kieran Larwood. Illustrated by David Wyatt.

The terrifying Gorm are on the rampage, and no-one and nowhere is safe.

An original and immersive adventure cleverly told with wonderfully atmospheric and detailed illustrations. Read more here.

Running on the Roof of the World by Jess Butterworth. Illustrated by Rob Biddulph

There are two words that are banned in Tibet…Dalai Lama.

Transports you across the Himalayas on a perilous but picturesque journey. Read more here.

Sea (Huntress Trilogy #1) by Sarah Driver

In the sky, fire spirits dance and ripple, but a deathly cold is creeping across Triannuka.

A brilliant start to a fantasy series with incredible world building and a wonderful use of language. Read more here.

The Bone Sparrow by Zana Fraillon

Hope can set you free.

Heart-breaking, but uplifting. Difficult but important. Everyone should read this.

Swimming Against The Storm

Swimming Against The Storm by Jess Butterworth.

Illustrated by Rob Biddulph.

I’ve written before about how much I love Jess Butterworth’s books (and the absolutely stunning artwork Rob Biddulph produces to accompany them), and her newest is no exception!

Twelve-year-old Eliza and her sister Avery have lived their entire lives in a small fishing village on the coast of Louisiana But now, with sea levels rising, their home is at risk of being swept away.

Determined to save the land, they go searching in the swamp for the dangerous, wolf-like loup-garou, sure that if they find one, the government will have to protect its habitat – and their community.

But with a tropical storm approaching, soon it’s not just their home at risk, but their lives as well…

My favourite thing about both Jess’ previous books was the description and world-building. With each book, she transports you right to the heart of a place and its people, and Swimming Against the Storm is no different. I felt I was really getting to know the lives, culture and traditions of Avery and her community.

Likewise, as the children venture into the swamp hunting for the loup-garou, I was surrounded by marshes, mosquitoes, humidity, greens, browns and plants – not to mention all the alligators!

The landscape here (as in her other books) is a rich tapestry built up of the characters experiences and knowledge of their home.

The characters themselves are likeable and well-written and the dynamics between them are relatable and familiar – from siblings and close friendships and the tests growing up puts on these to wider family and community relationships.

The children’s journey through the swamp land as the book unfolds is rough, raw and ragged – a real adventure which sounds every bit as mentally and physically demanding as it would be – this is no scout expedition through the local woods.

With themes of friendship and growing up, the environment and social responsibility, I love how the book balances the emotions of the characters (Avery in particular) and real environmental issues with action, humour and adventure. And the way the issues in the book are explored is incredibly well-written to both inform and engage younger readers.

A midnight hunt through a swamp for a mythical creature in the midst of a storm – this is one exciting, nerve-wracking and perilous escapade, not to mention a true test of friendship!

With a flavour of Stand By Me and a dash of Disney’s The Rescuers* (there’s two films I never thought I’d be saying in the same sentence!), this is yet another brilliant book from one of my favourite MG authors.

*you may or may not get this – it could just be me 😂

Swimming Against the Storm is released in April. I received this copy in exchange for an honest review.

WWW Wednesday 9/1/19

Ooh, I’ve just noticed today is a palindrome date!

Anyway, on to WWW Wednesday, hosted by ‘Taking on a World of Words’ every Wednesday’:

What are you currently reading?

Swimming Against the Storm by Jess Butterworth and illustrated by Rob Biddulph.

My copy is an ARC (a rather bath-and-bag-eared one too!) If you want to see the gorgeous real cover, have a nosy at The Reader Teacher’s Cover Reveal post!

I have been so excited about this, as I loved Jess’ other two books, and Rob Biddulph always makes them look as beautiful as the stories themselves.

So far, this is no exception and I’m really enjoying it – full review will follow when I’m done!

What have you just finished reading?

There’s a Yeti in the Playground by Pamela Butchart and illustrated by Thomas Flintham.

My first full read of one of the stories about Izzy and her friends, but it won’t be my last – so funny! You can read my review of it here.

What are you planning on reading next?

I’m pretty sure it’ll be ‘On The Come Up’ by Angie Thomas – another one I’ve got very high hopes for!

Have you read any of the books here? What are you reading at the moment?

Jess Butterworth’s Books

Jess Butterworth is one of my favourite new authors of the past few years and I’m so excited for a new book from her next year. Ahead of that, a belated review of her two books to date…

Both are beautifully designed, illustrated and laid out with gorgeous covers from Rob Biddulph and patterned pages to mark each chapter.

With a truly original and enjoyable style – Jess’ writing is a perfect example of ‘less is more’ and of how sometimes short, sparse sentences can be just as effective as long, adjective-filled passages.

I devoured this book – it’s not a long read, but a brilliant one.

Set in the Himalayas, this is a story steeped in culture and tradition, and I was transported right into the heart of the it.

When Tash’s parents are captured by soldiers, Tash and Sam embark on a dangerous journey out of Tibet to find the Dalai Lama and ask for his help.

It is a tale which shines a light on real issues in an immensely approachable and sensitive way: what could be an overbearingly heavy tale of censorship, control, lost freedoms and protest is instead a book filled with hope, bravery, friendship and family.

With incredibly likeable and relatable characters, a richly described and detailed setting and an important but perilous journey at its heart, this was definitely one of my favourite children’s books of 2017 and remains a favourite now.

Ruby and new friend Praveen set out on a mission to protect the local leopards from some very disagreeable and suspicious types they suspect of poaching.

Unsurprisingly after ROTROTW it is the vivid descriptions of the setting in the story that I like best about it too. The mountain landscape and its flora and fauna, and the bustling city and its busy river will have you sighing, gasping and wondering at the sights along with Ruby as she discovers her new surroundings!

With perilous trips through the mountains, midnight stake-outs, bustling trains and floods this is a thrill-filled adventure that nature-loving readers in particular will relish.

I am so excited for Jess’ new book next year – she has such a distinct and effective writing style creating books that are easy to read in short bursts, but that you’ll want to read all in one go.