CM . . .
. Volume XVII Number 6. . . .October 8, 2010
Toronto, ON: Dundurn, 2010.
264 pp., pbk., $12.99.
Grades 4-7 / Ages 9-12.
Review by Beth Wilcox.
Danny filled the food and water dishes. Wendy set the pet carrier inside the pen. She opened the carrier door and quickly closed the gate to the pen. The raccoons instantly came out and began running around the pen, looking for a way out.
"Keep your fingers away from the wire," Wendy warned. "A raccoon bite is a terrible thing."
Danny looked at her in surprise. "Why? They're not big enough to hurt me."
"Yes, but there's a law. If a person gets bitten by a raccoon, it has to be reported. Then authorities cut off the raccoon's head to test to see if it has rabies. If it does, the person who got bit has to get shots to keep them from getting rabies."
"Even if it's a little bite?" Danny asked in dismay. "They kill the raccoon?"
"They do," Wendy confirmed. "That's why we are very careful, and wear thick leather gloves if we have to handle them. Not just to protect ourselves, but to protect the raccoons."
Danny did not answer, and Wendy could not tell what he was thinking. She just hoped he would remember what she'd told him, and be careful.
Children with a passion for animal rescue and zoo stories will be drawn to the fictional account of Wendy Marshall's work with wildlife that forms the core of Wild Spirits. Many such readers will overlook the awkward jumps in time and somewhat rudimentary secondary characters and will be entertained by the adorable animals that Wendy rescues, including raccoons, foxes, fawns, llamas, bobcats, a caracal, servals, an ocelot, and a lynx. These animals bring humour to the story and form its emotional core. Adding to their appeal is the author's dedication which states that the antics of the animals are based on real-life animals and the experiences of wildlife rescue worker Tracy Wilson. Unfortunately, distracting from this animal tale is a secondary plot line regarding a bank robbery Wendy witnesses, a happening which makes her fearful of strangers and climaxes with the robbers attacking her at home. This story line seems tacked on and is poorly developed through the novel.
Rosa Jordan, who has previously won the American Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Henry Bergh Award, emphasizes responsible care and protection of animals in Wild Spirits as Wendy constantly repeats that wild animals are not meant to be kept as pets. However, the story may also give a strong impression of the opposite as it highlights the emotional attachments Wendy forms with cute baby animals (including a serval, bobcats, and an ocelot) that for various believable reasons can never be released into the wild. Overall, the idea of keeping these wild spirits as exotic pets may become attractive to readers, much at odds with the lessons Wendy (and Rosa Jordan) preaches.
Wild Spirits has been promoted as a "how to" for young people who want to get into wildlife rescue work, and, as such, it often becomes didactic in its attempts to inform the reader. However, this information-heavy approach may be welcomed by youth who are passionate for animals. Jordan deals with almost every aspect of caring for wild animals, including how llamas mate and the rationale for giving a male bobcat a vasectomy. When it comes to explaining animal husbandry to young readers, Jordan does an excellent job. The information on breeding is presented factually and clearly without being overly graphic. Nonetheless, for younger readers, adult guidance may be needed.
The 264-page story spans three years. Wendy is 19-years-old when it begins. Her only friend seems to be Danny, who is eight years younger than herself. It seems the author may have intended the novel for a young adult audience; however, this reviewer believes its greatest appeal will be found among youngsters aged 9 to 12, where interest in animal stories is fairly high. Furthermore, teenage readers will probably have a difficult time relating to Wendy. As a modern adolescent, her character is unrealistic; the social customs and behaviours she portrays (most notably descriptions of "going steady" with her boyfriend) are antiquated and unbelievable for a young woman of her cultural background. Some parents and teachers may find the discord in intended audience problematic in a few passages that may be interpreted as sexual allusions, such as when the narrator describes Wendy's boyfriend: "His well-muscled body (which Wendy had seen quite a bit of by now) definitely put him in the 'hunk' category" (p. 16).
While Wild Spirits has its flaws, many young readers will overlook these and enjoy the depth of information Jordan provides on wildlife rehabilitation and the animals they encounter in the story.
Recommended with reservations.
Beth Wilcox is a Master of Arts in Children's Literature graduate from the University of British Columbia and a teacher candidate at Queen's University Faculty of Education.
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