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Into the Wild


Into the Wild

What do you think might happen if you took a bunch of your favorite fairy-tale characters, dropped them into a bucket and shook it up? Probably a whole lot of mischief and a bit of confusion among the characters, for starters. The seven dwarves might get mixed up with Cinderella’s pumpkin after midnight, Jack might challenge Puss-in-Boots instead of the Giant and his beanstalk, and Goldilocks might start an out-and-out brawl with Rapunzel due to a stomachache from all that porridge. Whatever the outcome, it’s sure to be wacky, and readers will certainly raise an eyebrow at Sarah Beth Durst’s debut novel because of it.

At the core of INTO THE WILD lies 12-year-old Julie Marchen (note the symbolism in her name), a feisty heroine in charge of taking care of the goopy mess under her bed (“the Wild”) that chews on her bed sheets, gobbles up her sneakers and generally wreaks havoc on her mental well-being. First and foremost, her job is to make sure that the Wild doesn’t escape her bedroom, while keeping its presence hidden from her unsuspecting neighbors.

On the surface, everything seems perfectly normal in Julie’s suburban Massachusetts hometown. But Julie knows better. Not only does she have that thing living under her bed, but her mother (Rapunzel) and her mother’s gaggle of friends (Goldilocks, Snow White’s seven dwarves, Cinderella and the like) are secretly fairy-tale characters who have run off from their stories.

Long ago, these unhappy characters (led by Rapunzel) decided to rebel against their captor (the Wild) and fought tooth and nail to win their right to live a normal life in the real world. “Painstakingly slowly, so the Wild would not suspect, [Rapunzel] laid traps: a woodcutters ax next to a future bean stalk garden, extra ice to make all the bears’ porridge too cold,” and so on. Ultimately, Rapunzel and her forces triumphed and took the Wild hostage so it could never control their destinies again.

But hundreds of years later (when the book takes place), the Wild escapes from underneath Julie’s bed and begins to take over Julie’s town, leaving the fate of thousands of fairy-tale characters hanging in the balance. Using her wits and her knowledge of folklore, Julie must catapult herself into the ever-expanding Wild and do whatever it takes to save the town --- and her family.

As one might expect from a novel with this premise, INTO THE WILD is a smorgasbord of woven-together plots and characters plucked from stories by the likes of the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen. Throughout the book, these disparate figures come and go at the author’s will, often interacting with each other at breakneck speed before running off again. Alliances are formed, challenges arise and battles are fought, all in the name of preserving the freedom of once-trapped fairy-tale characters everywhere. Younger readers or those unfamiliar with a wide range of fairy-tales might miss the “inside” references or feel overwhelmed by the abundance of characters. Still, however, this is an entertaining read and an intriguing puzzle to crack.

Reviewed by Alexis Burling on June 21, 2007

Into the Wild
by Sarah Beth Durst

  • Publication Date: June 21, 2007
  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Razorbill
  • ISBN-10: 1595141561
  • ISBN-13: 9781595141569