The Wild Beyond by Piers Torday

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The Wild Beyond by Piers Torday

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Category: Confident Readers
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Linda Lawlor
Reviewed by Linda Lawlor
Summary: A thrilling final volume of this excellent trilogy as Kester and his companions continue their struggle against the evil business magnate whose get-rich schemes have destroyed most of the natural world. It manages to be in turn heart-stopping, haunting and funny, especially when the animals who can communicate with Kester take centre stage. Watch out for an over-excited lizard with a most distinctive accent!
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 416 Date: April 2015
Publisher: Quercus Children's Books
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 9781848668485

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Stories for younger readers about the effects of climate change, known as cli-fi, are growing massively in popularity right now, as environmental disasters and the disappearance of many of the planet's animals and plants hit the news on a depressingly regular basis. Shrinking glaciers mean rising water levels and the slow extinction of polar bears, and in many cities pollution and smog are so dire at times that governments are forced to ban cars and urge their citizens to stay indoors. But far from frightening children with tales of ever-increasing destruction and death, Piers Torday offers them a way to hope. No matter how bad things are, this trilogy tells us, all it takes is determination, and together we'll save our beautiful world.

In the first two books in this award-winning series twelve-year-old Kester learns that he – and he alone – can understand and communicate with animals. He is persuaded (if that's the proper term: that bossy little cockroach was never going to take no for an answer, and anyone who's ever tried to eat a sandwich in a city park knows how persistent pigeons can be!) to accept his role as the human embodiment of the Wild and set off on a quest with his animal companions in search of his scientist father. Things are never easy, even when Kester manages to make a couple of human friends, and there are no super-heroes or magic wands to save the day. If an animal or a human falls seriously ill the truth isn't sugar-coated: they die, and that's that. In fact, before the book opens most of the animals on the planet have already disappeared, killed by the red-eye virus, and the terrified humans live in a strict quarantine on the Island. Indeed, the full extent of the crisis is vividly demonstrated by the fact that the only thing left to eat in the world is a pink, gloopy mixture manufactured by the Factorium food company, which, no matter what you do to it, always tastes of prawn cocktail crisps.

Gentle, quiet Kester is a boy anyone can identify with - despite his one fantastic gift, he is as ordinary as they come. He gets scared and miserable, especially when danger comes from unexpected directions, and he is often tired and hungry. He is awkward around other humans, and he never really gets over his astonishment that he, of all people, could be the one chosen for such an immense and difficult task. But that's the whole point. Keeping our world clean and safe and peaceful isn't the responsibility of men in shiny tights or Nobel Prize winners. It's your everyday Joe and Jenny who need to step up – once they've finished their homework, of course. There's a really good article on Mr Torday's blog, reproduced from the Guardian newspaper, that explains precisely why his trilogy, while based on imagination, is not a fantasy.

All this may make the book seem austere and serious, but it isn't at all. There's adventure aplenty, wild quests and epic battles, and through it all a lightness of touch that makes the whole thing utterly readable. Who will you love more by the end – the dancing mouse or the chatty lizard? Who is braver, the war-like cockroach or the big-headed wolf cub? Actually, it doesn't matter: the important thing is that they all work together, whatever their strengths and weaknesses, and that's got to touch the heart and imagination of every boy and girl who reads this story. It really ought to be available to young people in every school library in the world.

Piers Torday has created a wonderful and thoroughly convincing world here, and the story deserves to be read in full. Start with The Last Wild, then join Kester and his companions as they struggle against even greater perils in The Dark Wild before the desperate battles of the third book. If you're a dedicated reader of cli-fi, Bookbag also recommends The White Horse Trick by Kate Thompson and After the Flood by L S Matthews. And if, after all that, you find yourself checking the ingredients on every food packet, or going round the house turning off unnecessary lights, it just goes to prove that exciting stories can also carry a serious message!

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