Book Title: The Wild Way Home (available here)
Author: Sophie Kirtley
Publication Date: July 2020
Most Suitable for: Years 5/6+
Reviewed By: Alison Leach
A wildly heartfelt timeslip adventure that takes readers back to the Stone Age to explore themes of family, courage, loss and what it means to be human.
Charlie Merriam knows every inch of the forest that sits at the edge of town. Growing up playing in the woods with best friends Lamont and Beaky, the forest provides the children with innocent adventures, freedom to play and inspiration for their young imaginations. Meanwhile, Charlie’s family is on the verge of big changes at home. Mum heads to hospital to deliver Charlie’s long-awaited baby brother. It’s a moment that Charlie has been longing for - for years now, Charlie has imagined the scene of becoming an older sibling for the first time, almost like a perfect family photograph. Charlie arrives at the hospital to be hit with the devastating news that the new baby, Dara, has a poorly heart and urgently needs a life-saving operation. With nothing feeling quite as expected, Charlie is unable to cope with so many big emotions and flees to the forest.
Something strange happens and, without quite understanding why, Charlie seems to have been transported back to prehistoric times. Aspects of Charlie's beloved forest look familiar still, but other parts look altogether wilder and uncultivated. When a Stone Age child appears face down in the stream, Charlie soon rescues and then befriends the prehistoric boy, who is called Harby. Meanwhile, a coming-of-age journey of self-discovery into Charlie’s own wildest parts begins, exploring the internal mix of raw, primitive feelings stirred up by Dara’s birth. The two children connect over unexpected family difficulties, powerful emotions that they have been running away from and their innate desire to ‘make safe’ their nearest and dearest.
It’s a gripping read with a narrative that is raw, honest and brave; the story is heavy in pathos at times and explores some emotionally difficult (but sadly not uncommon) circumstances that will pull on readers' heartstrings - although it concludes with a good measure of hope too. The landscape of the forest is beautifully evoked - both the liberating effect that playing outside in nature has on the modern children as well as the ancient fauna and flora of prehistoric Britain (complete with lynx, eagles and wolf packs) that provides comfort and jeopardy in equal measure. Nature - just like the natural cycles of life and death - connects us all as humans and this is felt intensely as the forest takes centre stage in Charlie’s journey of accepting the serious health problems of a family member.
With nods to Skellig and Stig of the Dump, this is an exciting and unique narrative that will be lapped up by mature readers who are ready for a roller coaster of adrenaline, a solid measure of empathy and a cause to reflect on the very essence of what it is to be human.
Many thanks to the publisher for sending us a review copy of this book.
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