After their mother is taken to the hospital, two brothers decamp from their home outside Pittsburgh in order to find their estranged father in a remote area of Wyoming.
Thirteen-year-old Jake and his younger brother, Taylor, are pathetically unprepared for a journey, and their decision to bring the family Jack Russell terrier, Cody, adds complications. Pretending to be older and having absconded with funds belonging to their mother’s boyfriend, Bull, the boys are incredibly lucky at times but eventually find the wilderness to be more challenging than they expected. At a crucial point they meet wolverine tracker Skeet, who graciously shares his knowledge and gear. But even as their confidence grows and they begin to feel that they are on their way to finding their dad, their past choices come back with a vengeance. Wallace maintains the book’s pace by providing menacing peril at regular intervals; realistically, as the boys perceive some dangers as more threatening than is actually true, but they underestimate others. (“Wilderness Tips” in the backmatter serve to clarify these points.) The continuous seesaw between urban settlement and wilderness, threat and safety, luck and skill might turn off hard-core survival fans, but it will be attractive to adrenaline junkies.
The action may sometimes be implausible, but it sure doesn’t stop. (Adventure. 9-14)