Reviews and Recommendations by Mel Odom, Professional Writer

INTO THE WILD by Sarah Beth Durst

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Twelve-year-old Julie Marchen isn’t a normal girl. She knew that from the beginning, when she found out her brother was a five hundred-year-old cat called Puss ‘n Boots. Her mother is called Zel, which is short for Rapunzel, and her grandmother is a wicked witch named Gothel. Not only that, but her weird family has been placed in charge of the last remnant of the Wild Woods (where all the fairy tales once lived).

Into the Wild is Sarah Beth Durst’s first novel, but she writes this one like a pro. The sequel Out of the Wild just arrived on book shelves. From the subject matter and the writing, it’s easy to see that Durst loves fairy tales, as do many kids.

Julie resents her life because she can’t be normal. Imagine going to school and telling people your brother is a five-hundred-year old cat. Then imagine going to school and trying not to tell your friends that. Or any of the other weird things about her family. Imagine growing up without your father and never knowing exactly what happened to him.

Zel operates a hair style shop (after all, learning to take care of all that hair had to have taught her something) and Gothel runs the local Wishing Well Motel. Julie’s mother tries to explain to her how important it is that they keep the Wild from growing. While the Wild Woods was on the loose, all the fairy tale people and creatures were held captive, doomed to live the same stories over and over again. Only Rapunzel found a way to escape the enchanted forest and managed to lead the others to freedom.

I was immediately intrigued by the premise, as was my ten year old when I read it to him. This book is a great read-aloud for summer evenings with the kids. I really liked the zany way the characters were presented, and how Durst played fairly with what those characters might be in the real world.

Julie doesn’t get her mom’s friends. Cindy (Cinderella) is now a speed demon – probably from living by that midnight curfew for so long. And the worst of the lot is the seven dwarves because they’re always grumpy and fussing, and Zel’s door is always open to them.

At school, Julie is a nobody. She wants to be part of the “cool” kids, but she can’t get accepted. However, if she could bring only one of the magical items that the Wild seems intent on manufacturing every so often, she knows she would immediately become the coolest kid in school. But her mom keeps all the magic rings, cloaks, and other attire safely locked up.

Thinking back over the magical items in all those stories, my mind kept wandering, imagining the things I could do with them. My ten-year-old did the same. That’s when I realized that maybe we never do really grow up from all these old stories.

Despite the best that Julie and her mom are able to do, the Wild gets loose. Before they know it, the enchanted woods takes over their town and begins recapturing story characters. Not only that, but the spell also steals the lives of normal people by zapping them into familiar stories as well.

I loved how Durst hinted at stories before revealing them. The comfortable familiarity led my son and I to guess which fairy tale Julie was plunging through at any given time. I have to admit, he nailed the Three Blind Mice before I did. The trip was made even more fun because we knew those stories so well that creating Julie’s adventures in our minds was a snap.

Into the Wild is a terrific read. The fact that it lends itself to so many other stories children know is a plus. Kids who have wanted something new, yet something playful, will enjoy this one a lot. I’ve already ordered the sequel, and I’m looking forward to another romp through the enchanted woods.




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