In a riveting opening chapter, 14-year-old Wren is roused from sleep at 3:47 a.m., whisked to the airport, and flown to Utah for an 8-week wilderness therapy program—a last-ditch effort by her concerned parents in response to her drug use, lying, shoplifting, and destructive behavior.
Initially enraged and blaming everyone, Wren slowly begins to connect with the others in the group and feel some success at mastering building a fire, purifying water, and surviving. She also contemplates her past behavior: running heroin; slashing her father’s tires and her sister’s clothes; carving a swastika in her mother’s cherished piano. She begins to understand what real friends are—unlike those who used and mistreated her—and to consider the kind of person she wants to be. Traditional tales told by Mokov, an elderly Paiute who visits the camp, add dimension to the story, although the appropriation of Native tropes (campers go on a “quest” as a culminating exercise; Wren braids a feather in her hair in imitation of Mokov) is problematic. Wren and her family are evidently white; one of the other campers is identified as African-American. Van Draanen makes palpable both the outer desert landscape and Wren’s intense inner emotions.
A memorable book about family, friendship, forgiveness, and second chances. (Fiction. 12-16)