Into That Forest by Louis Nowra

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Into That Forest by Louis Nowra

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Category: Confident Readers
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Robin Stevens
Reviewed by Robin Stevens
Summary: A fierce, delightful children’s tale about two girls lost in the Australian bush, and the Tasmanian tigers who rescue them. Fascinating, beautiful and unblinkingly brutal, this will appeal far beyond its target audience.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 242 Date: January 2013
Publisher: Egmont Books
ISBN: 9781405266437

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Almost every child dreams about freedom. The idea of being able to make your own decisions about how you live your life is, as anyone who has ever been told to eat up your greens and go to bed will know, a deeply seductive one. Many adults, of course, have the opposite fear: that children are really little monsters dressed up in human clothes, ready to break away and go wild at the slightest provocation. It’s not hard to see, therefore, why both adults and children are so fascinated by the idea of children alone in the wild. From Lord of the Flies to Where the Wild Things Are, there’s a pervasive dream in children’s fiction – a dream that’s sometimes closer to a nightmare – about the child gone feral.

Australian novelist Louis Nowra’s first book for children, Into That Forest, might be both. A gloriously no-holds-barred tale about two young Australian girls lost in the bush who are saved by a pair of Tasmanian tigers, Into That Forest shows children going so wild that they don’t just become like animals, they almost literally turn into them.

Set in Tasmania at the end of the nineteenth century, this is the story of six-year-old Hannah, who lives by the Munro River with her mother and her whaler father. Hannah is an outdoorsy girl whose only friend (and the only other child she knows) is prim-and-proper neighbour’s daughter Becky. The two don’t have much in common, but they’re thrown together after Hannah’s parents die in a boating accident. Lost in the bush, they realise they have no one to rely on but each other. Then they’re discovered by a pair of Tasmanian tigers whose cubs have been shot by a bounty-hunter, and who quickly decide to adopt Becky and Hannah in their place.

What follows is an account of Hannah and Becky’s four years in the wild, as they become girl-shaped Tasmanian tigers. They learn to think, smell and see like predators, they join their ‘parents’ on hunts and, although Becky fights against it, they even lose the ability to speak. Hannah’s plain but forceful narration takes us into a world where human rules just don’t apply. She never shies away from or exaggerates any aspect of their bush life, and the story she has to tell is both exciting and shockingly raw. There’s a beautiful scene, for example, in which the tigers and the girls go to a beach to catch seals. The hunt is a wholesale slaughter, but it’s presented unblinkingly in glowingly simple prose that catches the reader up in the sheer joy felt by the whole pack.

This isn’t a fairy tale – it’s too real for that – but it is a very clever take on what ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ might be if the big scary wolf and the sweet little girl were one and the same character. It also isn’t a sweet morality tale about respect for the natural world. Yes, two of the novel’s main characters are Tasmanian tigers, a species that was hunted to extinction because of misplaced fears about their violent natures and fondness for the taste of farmyard animals. The loss of the Tasmanian tiger is the story of human greed and ignorance, and Nowra makes that clear – the villains of this piece are the humans too blinkered to understand what’s really going on in the land they inhabit – but the tigers themselves are fierce, driven predators who don’t simply kill, but delight in it. This is a book that isn’t at all interested in making simple statements about what’s right or wrong.

Into That Forest is oddly-shaped – three quarters of the way through it goes to sea to become a homage to Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, and then it switches pace again to give a shocking snap-shut ending – but overall it’s a gorgeously vivid imagining of life in the wild. Children and teens will be fascinated by it, and any adult lucky enough to come into contact with it will find that it’s one of those books that you give to a child you know, just so you can steal it for yourself later.

For more intelligent, beautiful fiction that refuses to talk down to its readers, try Maggot Moon by Sally Gardner.

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Buy Into That Forest by Louis Nowra at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Into That Forest by Louis Nowra at


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