ON THE FREE by Coert Voorhees


Age Range: 13 - 16
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Seeking to avoid jail time, 16-year-old Santi Rivas agrees to a backpacking trip with a wilderness-therapy program in the mountains of Colorado.

The diverse group includes Victor, rich, “gigantic asshole,” Celeste, a purple-haired girl who revels in her dysfunction, and Rico, a rebel with a smart mouth. Led by the earnest but clueless Jerry and Amelia, who is nursing pain of her own, the six travel deep into the woods. Bears and mountain lions are an ever present danger, but the rage and pain each feels are the real monsters. Chapters alternate between the campers’ current struggles and the events that led up to their participation in the trip. Santi begins, cataloging his painful childhood and his devotion to his sister. Victor continues the story, telling of the dark side of wealth. The tale finishes with Amelia, determined to find her inner warrior. Authentic, foulmouthed teen dialogue and a tone-sensitive treatment of different life experiences make this a positive story for personal ­­­growth and positive change. Santi is Latinx, though racial and ethnic markers for other characters are slim. While sexual double-entendre is realistically pervasive in the teens’ exchanges, it never feels forced or gratuitous. An awkward ending is the only major misstep.

Danger is within and without for teens backpacking through the wilderness. (Adventure. 13-16)

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 2017
ISBN: 978-1-5124-2913-8
Page count: 280pp
Publisher: Carolrhoda
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15th, 2017


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