A mix of titles currently on my shelves.

Saturday, February 8, 2020

Surviving The Wild Lands

Fairbanks author Paul Greci’s second YA novel, The Wild Lands, is a gripping tale of survival in a post-apocalyptic Alaska.

Several years after most people have fled the state, seventeen-year-old Travis and his ten-year-old sister Jess must fend for themselves in a dystopian landscape decimated by earthquakes, searing wildfires, and other assorted repercussions of climate change, including the collapse of government. Worse than the environmental depravations, serious as they have become, are the dangers the two face from marauding humans.

Travis and Jess attempt to make their way south toward Anchorage in search of civilization. Along their way, they meet up and join forces with two brothers and a trio of young women. Together they face brutal circumstances and difficult decisions, living mostly by their wits and in hopes of finding a place safe enough to call home.

The Wild Lands by Paul Greci. Imprint, 2019.

Especially once Travis and Jess are on their own, Greci’s storytelling is vivid and uncomfortably plausible. I’ve read plenty of apocalyptic fiction but found I could only read this novel during the day to avoid exhausting survival dreams at night. (Full disclosure: I close my eyes during the bloody parts of movies!) As in his first novel, Surviving Bear Island, Greci’s wilderness experience is evident throughout the story but he doesn’t focus solely on physical survival. Issues of trust and fear, hope and despair, grief and healing, equality and justice, self-defense and abuse of power, respect for and violence against women are integrated into The Wild Lands. Through the characters and  their challenges, Greci recognizes realities of power and powerlessness in social settings and how the balance can quickly change depending on one’s age, gender, resources, and beliefs.

While the story is told in first person from Travis’s point of view, the main female characters — Jess, Tam, and Max — are strong figures with distinct personalities and strengths. Each contributes to their group’s survival and forms friendships that help keep everyone alive. Travis may be the coming-of-age hero of the story but Tam and Max tolerate no guff from him and operate as equal partners -- once they decide to let him live.

Max stands out among the characters for her identification with her “Native” (unspecified) ancestry, which she appears to cling to as a way of maintaining hope for the future. Unlike the others, she holds a vision of someday returning to a renewed land. Max forms a special bond with young Jess, who finds comfort and strength in their relationship.

I appreciate that the characters recognize relationship to the land, if briefly amid their struggles to survive, through the lenses of their young world views and experiences. In that fractured landscape I came to care about each of the characters and to admire their resourcefulness and resilience. In Greci’s hands, their journey portrays a haunting version of the Alaskan wilderness.

Greci’s newest survival novel, Hostile Territory, is just out from Macmillan.

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