I was first introduced to Natalie Parker’s Beware the Wild at the Fourteenery retreat in 2013. It was so good, we made her read the first and second chapters. So I’d been looking forward to this one for a while, and it was so awesome. Here are a few of my reasons why you should read Beware the Wild.
Beware the Wild reminded me of a classic Grimms’ fairy tale in that it was about one girl on a quest, fighting the forces of darkness to save her brother. Like any good fairy tale heroine, Sterling is brave and determined and clever. But Sterling is also a normal girl in so many ways–she’s sensitive and scared and funny and doubts herself. She’s a phenomenal protagonist and I loved getting to join her on this adventure.
2. The Swamp
Sterling lives at the edge of the swamp, which is the center of all sorts of creepy local legends and magical activity. At the beginning of the novel, Phin has disappeared into the swamp, which has already claimed the lives of other Sticks residents throughout history. I loved the swamp as a magical and scary setting, and getting to hear snippets of other swamp folklore.
3. Lenora May
One of the swamp’s creepy elements–Lenora May, who appears after Phin has disappeared and takes over his life for everyone except Sterling. Lenora May is a wonderfully complex villain/sister, and I spent the whole book wondering if I should be afraid of her or trust her.
Even though Phin has disappeared into the swamp at the beginning of the novel, we get a sense of him as a brother through Sterling’s memories. I loved getting a sense of his strength and loyalty and fear, and learning about why he felt he had to escape.
Obviously in a book about a sister trying to rescue her brother, family is a big deal. But even outside of Sterling and Phin’s relationship, family is a big part of Beware the Wild. I won’t spoil anything here, but I loved Natalie’s exploration of families’ particular traumas and secrets and griefs and how they can rebuild.
6. Southern Gothic
Beware the Wild feels like a book that could only be set in the American South. Between the swamp magic and lore and towns filled with secrets and wild characters, it’s a novel that fits right into the Southern Gothic tradition.
Sterling and Heath have one of my favorite romances in 2014 YA debuts. They find each other through their losses and support each other in the belief that their loved ones exist. Their relationship feels so grounded in not just attraction, but also mutual respect and support.
At the end of Beware the Wild the book, I really wanted a Beware the Wild movie and spin-off TV series. The world Natalie’s created, from the swamp to the high school to Sterling’s family to the Clary store, the town of Sticks feels so real and expansive and I want to dive into it even more. Home becomes a big theme in the book, and I think part of that is because the sense of place is so alive in this book, even beyond the swamp.
The Shine is the magic of the swamp that can give power and/or destroy people. It feels timeless, almost a force of nature, in that way that I love magic in books to feel. It’s a force that needs to be respected and can’t exactly be understood, and lends a mystical and unsettling air to the book.
10. Natalie is the best
Most of my emails to Natalie over the last year or two have included the phrase “You’re the best!” Because Natalie C. Parker is truly the best. She puts together the most amazing retreats and organizes projects like the Hanging Garden. She’s thoughtful and kind and an enthusiastic supporter of her fellow writers. She’s definitely the kind of writer and person you want to know.
Beware the Wild is now available, so make sure to get your copy today!