CM . . .
. Volume XI Number 21 . . . .June 24, 2005
Originally published in Sweden, In the Wild has transferred well to Canada, both in terms of its wilderness setting and its theme, bullying. Amanda is a student in one of three classrooms of grade six students who are attending a week-long school-sponsored wilderness adventure camp a few weeks before the beginning of summer holidays. At best, Amanda is tolerated by her fellow students, but more often she is the victim of their verbal and psychological bullying, especially that of the girls, although her chief tormentor is a boy, Philip. The camp experience initially allows Amanda to experience a modicum of relief as the new setting forces the students to interact via bunking together and learning camping skills and crafts, such as making fire, cooking quickbread and making survival boxes.
When the students go whitewater rafting, three rafts collide with a tree blocking the river's channel. Amanda is tossed into the cold water and separated from her raftmates, but, as she drifts down the swiftly flowing river, she encounters a panicked Philip and assists him in reaching the riverbank but far downriver from where the accident occurred. Amanda defers to Philip's higher social standing and allows him to lead her into the woods, thereby ignoring the first rule of surviving when lost—to stay put.
Over the next five days, the relationship between the two begins to change as Philip comes to recognize and appreciate Amanda's clearly superior skills in wilderness survival, especially in the area of identifying and cooking edible plants. In their aimless wanderings, the pair stumble upon a deserted and dilapidated house on a lake where they set up camp while awaiting rescue although both fear that search parties may be looking not for survivors downriver but just for their drowned bodies.
Amanda wonders if they may need to live in the house for some extended period, a scenario that, despite her missing her family, almost becomes attractive as Philip behaves more like a friend than a tormentor. Rescue does arrive in the form of a helicopter, and the book offers a somewhat open ending in which Amanda wonders if Philip's more positive behaviors will continue or disappear once he is reimmersed in his former social environment.
A fast read, In the Wild is a good character study, especially in its presentation of the decline in the self-concept of the person being bullied. As a longtime Scout leader, I was intrigued by the contents of the survival boxes the students assembled at the wilderness camp. Each student's survival box contained: a box of matches, a fishhook, fishing line and weight, five lemon-flavored fructose tablets, water purifying tablets, needle and thread, a sterile compress, an emergency candle and a condom. "Oh, those liberal Swedes," you think. "Safe sex in the wildness!" No, while a condom has never been suggested as survival gear in any outdoor course I've taken, the book's instructor explains:
Later, when Amanda and Philip are in survival mode, they do utilize most of the items from their kits, but not the condoms.
Dave Jenkinson teaches courses in children's and YA literature at the Faculty of Education, the University of Manitoba.
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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.