Into the Wild, by Sarah Beth Durst

Tamora Pierce has been so vocally excited about this book in her blog — she even got a quote put on the front of the book — that when I came across an affordable copy of it, prescription I had to pick it up. Sarah Beth Durst was born in Northboro, artificial MA, the setting of the book; she currently lives in Stony Brook, NY. She spent a year molding in Cambridge, England, but moved back to the U.S. She’s possessed of a husband, a daughter, and a cat named Perni (originally Copernicus). I’m certain she’s working on a new book, but I can’t find any info. Her most recent book is Out of the Wild, which is a sequel to this one.

Julie Marchen has an . . . interesting life. For one thing, her mother is Rapunzel. For a second, she’s twelve years old and is in junior high/middle school. For a third thing, she gets rides to and from school from Cinderella. For the last, the Wild lives under her bed: the wild magic that powers and directs fairy tales. It’s eating her shoes. So one night, after they’ve had Snow White’s seven dwarves over for dinner, the Wild (under her bed) escapes, and starts growing crazily. Julie’s mother disappears into it, and everyone seems to want to get Julie out of the way rather than help her mother. What can she do? And why has she been thinking so much about her father recently?

This was not a very long book; it was only 250-odd pages. It didn’t take me very long to read it, but I definitely enjoyed it a good deal. It’s sort of a meta fairy tale (or perhaps a pan-fairy-tale); there are references to a dozen or so different classic stories. I read a discussion once on which fairy tales one can expect the audience to know; well, all of them are in this volume, with references to a few more. It’s fascinating to see how Ms. Durst has woven together the different stories and the different archetypes in the story to form a tapestry that touches on so many different fairy tales and yet suggests so many more.

Julie is our third-person narrator; she’s a fairly typical non-popular kid. I did like her, but she was sort of overshadowed by the wealth of secondary characters. Her friend Gillian, I thought, was quite interesting. I loved that she played trumpet, and used to play it over the phone for Julie (as unappreciative as Julie was). Zel (Rapunzel) was a little bit mysterious, but she was even quite mysterious to her own daughter. I thought that the grandmother (the witch in Rapunzel’s tale) was much more interesting; she showed up in a couple different guises, to display the archetypal factor in fairy tales.

Overall, I think it’s a good, solid book for middle-grade readers. It would probably even be a great book to read out loud to younger children. It’s similar in some ways to Delia Sherman’s Changeling; there’s a quest involved in both books, but Ms. Sherman’s work involves more jokes and wordplay and fewer actual fairy tales (although more fairies). I’d definitely recommend it to those who are fond of fairy tales; Ms. Durst’s use of the stories is inventive and very smooth, and I’m definitely looking forward to reading not just the sequel but more of her work in the future. 4/5 stars.

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