Nature is indeed red in tooth and claw in this middle-grade novel.
The Wakefield dump is home to a complicated, interwoven community of animals. The story is told through the key members of this community, including a timid owl, a conniving weasel, a mole who just wants something interesting to happen, a pair of fireflies, a recently deposed porcupine king and his porcupine henchmen, a chipmunk, a turkey, and a slew of other creatures from all walks (and crawls) of life. One would think that living under a dump, where shelter and food are somewhat plentiful, would result in a sort of perfect ecological harmony, but it’s not to be; instead, each creature faces his or her own battles, some with the outside world, and some with one another. But as the stakes get higher and oppressive forces begins to darken the dump and surrounding forest, the animals must begrudgingly work together to do battle and save themselves. Will they get it done, or will there be one prickly creature to rule them all? Sharpe clearly has affection for her wild subjects in her debut work—each has a distinct personality, culminating in a sort of Game of Thrones-esque buildup and battle of clans. The tale starts off slowly, but once it gets moving, it really moves. There may be a few too many characters, though, and some of them blend together. Some of the prose during the dialogue is a bit over the top, as when Margaret the weasel cackles to herself: “ ‘Raid the young from my den?’ Margaret blinked back the memory, before emotion could take hold of her in its talons. ‘No, my fine feathered demons. Not this time.’ ” That being said, fauna-minded young readers will dig through the story as avidly as the band of animals as they fix a tunnel. The book shows that working together may be hard, but it does have its benefits.
A fast-paced, if lengthy, look at an ecological system under siege.