Title: Beware the Wild
Author: Natalie C. Parker
Published by: HarperCollins
Publication date: Oct 21, 2014
Genres: Fantasy, Mystery, Gothic, Romance
“Beware the swampy places, child,
Beware the dark and wild,
Many a soul has wandered there,
And many a soul has died.”
So begins Part One of Beware the Wild by Natalie C. Parker. Sticks, Louisiana has secrets, and the “cruel, hungry” swamp in Sterling Saucier’s backyard holds the key to those secrets. Sterling, however, is only concerned with one secret for the time being – the disappearance of her big brother, Phineas. Phin ran into the swamp this morning and never returned. When a figure finally emerges, it’s Lenora May, a girl who seamlessly takes Phin’s place in Sticks and in the memories of those who knew him. In fact, Sterling is the only one who remembers Phin existed at all, and the responsibility falls on her to discover what happened to her brother.
Heath Durham, the local rumored drug addict and an old flame, delivers hope in the form of three words – “I believe you.” Heath lost his best friend Nathan to the swamp too. Heath’s not really an addict, but he is on anti-depressants for thinking he had a best friend named Nathan who was lost in the swamp. You can imagine the relief Heath finds in the revelation of Sterling’s story.
Together, Sterling and Heath embark on a journey to search for the truth within the swamp, and fight for the courage to rescue those they love.
At its heart, Beware the Wild is a cautionary tale about fear. Each character is acting from or is paralyzed by fear, even the villain, at his roots, is motivated by fear. Sterling, too, is literally wasting away from the fear of living without her brother. Growing up with an abusive father, Phin always protected Sterling. Now Phin’s preparing to go away to college, and Sterling is so afraid to live without him that she’s starving herself in protest to his decision. Sterling’s journey is about finding the courage to fight for herself and those she loves by leaning on the strength of those around her. She “dared to remember” those lost who should still be living and that determination propels her to the truth.
I liked this swampy tale for its mystery and intrigue. The story moves steadily, if a little slowly at times, but Parker keeps her readers guessing as to who’s behind the kidnappings. It was not difficult to imagine Sticks, Louisiana and it’s southern characters. Candy (Sterling’s best friend), Heath, and Lenora May are the most vivid, while Sterling fell into the protagonist without a face. She seems to be one of those characters that young girls can imagine themselves in her place. Besides her background of an abusive father, there’s little describing her. I felt like I didn’t know anything about her other than her anthem, “I lost my brother to the swamp, and I’m going to get him back!” It’s an honorable anthem. Oh, her favorite sport is volleyball and her favorite food is broccoli…what? Broccoli is no one’s favorite food. You can like broccoli, I guess you can love it, but your favorite? Utterly unbelievable.
Beware the Wild is well written, and you’ll enjoy it if you like gothic mysteries. There’s a simplicity to the storytelling that keeps the tale easy to follow and the characters understandable.
Would I let my teen read this?
Absolutely. There are good things to discuss about not letting fear rule your decisions and having the courage to fight for yourself and your beliefs instead of depending on others to do it for you.
Age recommendation: 14
Swearing – Mild, including Lord’s name in vain
Drugs and Alcohol – Kids do shots together
Sex – Kissing; Reference to homosexuality
Violence – Mention of abusive father; kids get in fistfight at school
My Goodreads rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Buy: Beware the Wild - on Amazon.com
I read a lot. I'm a Mom. I'm officially in my 30s, but strangers often don't believe I'm old enough to drink. I love Young Adult fiction, and thought it was worthwhile to help teens and adults find age-appropriate options.