Book Review: The New Wilderness

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Title: The New Wilderness

Author: Diane Cook

Why I picked this book to read: This book caught my eye by its interesting cover (admittedly, as most often do). I had been in Barnes & Noble filling my basket’s worth of finds and grabbed this one to top off my purchases as a “in for a penny, in for a pound” decision. I highly recommend impulse shopping as a great way to discover a new author and type of book!

How I would summarize this book: A spectrum cast of characters volunteers and join forces for different reasons in the last undeveloped lands unmarred by humanity’s environmental damage. We follow the story of Bea, a mother making gritty decisions to try to give her young daughter, Agnes, the possibility of a healthy life vs. what she would otherwise face in a smog-ridden, overpopulated city. The paths of the ensemble of characters intersect once they arrive in this new land and the journey truly begins as everyone makes their own choices along the way, all trying to survive. Human behavior looms in all its forms as the group transitions from volunteers to survivors as they fight against and for one another.

As the campfire hissed itself to sleep, she heard the last of the Community walking cautious and blind from the fire to the beds and nestling down. Someone said “Goodnight, everyone.” Against her ankle, Bea could feel Agnes’s blood pulsing through her hot clutching hand. She breathed in and out to its rhythm. I have a daughter, she thought, no time for brooding. She was needed here, and now, by someone. She vowed to move on quickly. She wanted to. She had to. It was how they lived now.

As Bea soldiers onward through each life-or-death choice throughout the book, she finally beings to near everything she has dreamed of for her only child. We also see changes in perspective of characters as much of the first part of the book is from Bea’s eyes, but later we see the story’s continuance through the eyes of Agnes. The reading adventure evolves yet again into a complete plot-twist near end of the book and opens up new twists and turns for mother and daughter as the final chapters unfold.

The challenges and outcomes for several key characters we get to know along the way provide for interesting sub-plots in parallel to the main story of Bea and Agnes. Throughout, the story follows more closely to how I can imagine true human behavior might be in this type of survive-or-die world when a group of people come together not of their own choosing. It was a gripping read that kept me guessing all the way through and was as visceral as it was imaginative and fictional.

What I Really Liked: I appreciated the details of the geographic landscapes in this book. The characters cover a remarkable amount of distance, seasons, years and terrain. The author doesn’t slow down the pace of the action by describing every last leaf or rock, but chooses savvy locations to detail during pivotal moments:

The lakes were bordered by tall pines, with the greenest needles Agnes had seen in a long time and tall rusty-orange trunks. Healthy trees. Not thirsty like what they’d seen lately. They were watered well by the lakes and snowmelt. So much vibrancy in a landscape marred by lava. The obsidian flows were glassy fingers reaching for the lakes. Elsewhere, those fingers were rough, the rock sharp, reddened, and treacherous. Pumice cliffs and peaks surrounded the lakes and the caldera rim. Between the lakes lay a flow that had hardened as it had swirled, molten, like a hurricane around its own eye. “We are swimming in those lakes,” said Debra in a reverent whisper. “I don’t care how cold they are.”

My Overall Summary: All in all, this is a great read that came at the perfect time as a change from my most recent historical fiction. It was more raw and kept me on the edge of my proverbial seat. It was one of those different and unique stories that keeps you intrigued the entire way through and cleanses your reading palette as refreshingly different.

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