Wilderness by Roddy Doyle

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Castlecliff by Roddy Doyle

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Category: Teens
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: A gorgeous family drama split between an ice safari in Finland and a mother-daughter reunion in Dublin. Doyle's perfect ear for dialogue and unerring ability to tap into emotional dynamics lift this book far above most of the competition. Highly recommended.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 224 Date: September 2007
Publisher: Scholastic
ISBN: 1407102311

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Grainne has hit adolescence with a bang. She hates everyone, including herself. She can barely bring herself to acknowledge the rest of her family, let alone be polite. She spends a lot of time thinking about her mother, who left when she was very small and now lives in New York. Tired of the tense atmosphere, Grainne's father suggests a holiday for Grainne's stepmother and her two half brothers, Johnny and Tom. So the little boys and their mother head off to an ice safari in Finland. They can barely contain their excitement. Grainne and Frank stay at home, to await the first visit from Grainne's mother since she left all those years ago. The excitement here, too, is palpable, but it's tinged with an altogether different type of expectation.

In Ireland, Grainne and Frank tiptoe around one another and Grainne finds her mother's visit is completely different to what she'd expected. In Finland, Tom and Johnny compete with one another for their mother's attention and discover the huskies. Until that is, there's an accident, and Sandra is lost in the forest...

Wilderness doesn't just describe the snowy wilderness of the forest in which Sandra gets lost. It also describes the emotional landscape in which this family finds itself. Sandra and Frank love all three children in their extended family, but they don't always manage to keep them happy. The boys struggle to get the upper hand over one another and avoid Grainne wherever possible - she's not what you'd call simpatico with them, or indeed, with anyone. Grainne feels dislocated and alone and can't stop herself rejecting any overtures made by her struggling father and stepmother. Frank hates confrontation but can't bear the loss of closeness. Sandra struggles too.

Family dynamics are the bread and butter of Roddy Doyle's fiction, and he picks through the complicated emotions with his usual clear eye. No one in this family is to blame for what's going wrong, but they all are responsible for putting it back together. Through their mother's accident, the boys learn to work with one another. Through her mother's visit, Grainne learns that the grass may be green on the other side, but it isn't necessarily greener.

What strikes you most is Doyle's facility for dialogue. There's no exposition; it's just real. And it enables you to believe fully in every character, to identify with them, and to wish them well, despite their faults. It's a wonderful ability and it's what gives his books their energy and vitality. This one is an honest, optimistic book that tells it like it is but makes you feel as though there's always an answer out there somewhere, whatever your problem is.

It's a lovely, lovely book. Recommended.

My thanks to the nice people at Scholastic for sending the book.

If they like the sound of Wilderness, they could also look at Catcall by Linda Newbery and Notes From A Liar And Her Dog by Gennifer Choldenko, two more wonderful kitchen sink dramas about family dynamics. You might also appreciate Libby in the Middle by Gwyneth Rees.

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Buy Wilderness by Roddy Doyle at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Wilderness by Roddy Doyle at Amazon.co.uk Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
Buy Wilderness by Roddy Doyle at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Wilderness by Roddy Doyle at Amazon.com.


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