Sarah Beth Durst was one of my co-judges on the Cybils middle grade fiction committee, and I was happy to have a chance to read her upcoming upper middle grade novel, Into The Wild. Into The Wild is a quirky, fast-paced story about a modern-day girl named Julie, who just happens to be the daughter of the fairy tale princess Rapunzel (or Zel, as her friends call her). Although Julie isn't magical herself, she lives a life surrounded by fairy tale accoutrements, like magic mirrors and wishing wells.
Under Julie's bed lives a tangle of green vines called "The Wild", kept barely in check, and wanting to be free. The Wild was once much larger, and Rapunzel and her friends were trapped in it, forced to live out their fairy tale stories over and over again. The adventure begins when an errant wish sets The Wild free, and it begins to take over the town. To save the people she loves, Julie must face her fears, and plunge Into The Wild. There she experience a somewhat surrealistic series of events, as the various fairy tales of The Wild ensnare her. Through her experiences, she learns more than she had ever imagined about her parents, and the world that they once lived in. She also learns of her own, unique strengths.
What I like best about the book is the way Julie is a real 12-year-old girl, albeit living in unusual circumstances. She isn't some sort of idealized fairy tale princess. She argues with her mother and her brother (the adopted Puss in Boots), she has problems fitting in at school (who wouldn't, with The Wild eating up all of her shoes?), and she idealizes her absent father (don't most kids who never knew a parent do this?). She makes mistakes, and loses things. But she's also loyal to her family and to her best friend, and she's capable of making huge personal sacrifice for people she loves.
Here's an example of Julie's internal monologue:
"If she explained, would her mother understand? Could she know what it was like not to fit in? Could she understand what it was like not to know who she was or where she belonged? Or even where she came from? Julie knew nothing of her father. She knew nothing of how her mother and her fairy-tale friends had escaped the Wild. How was Julie even here? How had the force of the Wild Wood, a power that had dominated the entire Middle Ages, been reduced to a tangle of vines under her bed?" (Chapter 4)
What makes the book above the common, to me, is the way that the fairy tale events are juxtaposed with mundane, real-world people and situations. The author has clearly done a tremendous amount of research about fairy tales, including both well-known and obscure references on virtually every page. But she doesn't let the fairy tale world take over completely, always tying things back to Julie and her "real" life. Slightly older fans of The Sisters Grimm books are sure to enjoy this alternate take on the intersection between fairy tale characters and the real world.
Book: Into The Wild
Author: Sarah Beth Durst (website and blog). Sarah was one of my co-judges on the Cybils middle grade fiction committee.
Original Publication Date: June 2007
Age Range: 10-14
Source of Book: Advance proof from the publisher (quotes may not reflect final text of the book)
Other Blog Reviews: A Fuse #8 Production, Miss Erin
© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.