Sunday, October 11, 2015

Nowhere Wild by Joe Beernink

Nowhere Wild is the gripping survival story of two young people caught in a deadly post-apocalyptic world. Set in northern Manitoba, Beernink weaves two narratives together in a gritty, heart-stopping climax.Thirteen year old Isabelle (Izzy) Chamberlain and her older sister Angie have been living in Thompson when a influenza pandemic strikes. Fifteen year old Jake Clarke is alone at a lake in northern Manitoba, unaware of what's been happening to people in the cities and towns. Izzy and Jake tell their stories in alternating narratives. Izzy's story begins in the winter when Jake is struggling to survive with his dying grandfather, Amos. The two narratives catch up when Jake discovers Izzy the next summer on his journey to Laroque to look for his missing father.

When Izzy and her sister Angie are attacked in the house they are ransacking for clothing and wood, Angie yells at Izzy to flee. She escapes, unable to help her sister. Seeing Rick, the older man who has been helping them, Izzy tells him Angie has been attacked. Rick immediately goes to the house but after a series of gunshots returns and tells Izzy that her sister is dead and that they need to return to the bush to be safe. They travel through the north part of Thompson, where Rick and his wife Lois and son, Brian once lived. Rick and Izzy's families were very close; her father and Rick were close and Brian was like a big brother to Izzy.

Izzy's parents died four months ago from the flu; first her father, then her mother. Izzy and Angie were taken in by Lois who was divorced from Rick. But then she died and Rick returned to his ex-wife's home. Izzy and Angie had left Thompson in July with Rick. Food became scarce, so along with many others they had headed south to Winnipeg. Meeting survivors from Winnipeg heading north they learned of gangs who stole and killed. When their group was attacked by these gangs, Rick had already taken them into the bush where they remained for the rest of the summer. In September when the weather cooled and they ran out of food, Izzy, Angie and Rick returned to Thompson.

Rick grabs the cross-country skis, snowshoes and the deer carcass and they head out of town into the woods.Impatient, Rick blazes through the bush not caring whether Izzy can keep up. Sleeping in a thin tent, cold and hungry, Izzy and Rick make their way to a large lake which is now frozen over. In a blinding blizzard, Izzy almost becomes lost but the two eventually arrive at a dilapidated cabin that was once frequented by Rick's grandfather. While Izzy spends several days cleaning the cabin and gathering firewood, Rick sets traps and hunts for food. He begins talking about staying at the cabin permanently, referring to Izzy as Isabelle and then begins to make Isabelle a bed. However, to Izzy's horror the bed he makes is for both of them. Reluctantly Izzy agrees to share the bed not really realizing what is about to happen. Then one night as a storm rages, Rick rapes Izzy. As the rapes continue nightly, Izzy finds herself trapped in a cabin, in the middle of the bush, entirely dependent upon Rick for her survival. Devastated she realizes that when she and Angie were in the bush the previous year, Rick was raping her sister. She comes to the understanding that she will have to escape, otherwise she will be trapped for good.

To that end, realizing she will never be able to fire one of Rick's guns, Izzy makes herself a slingshot and becomes adept at using it. She is so good that one day she is able to kill a hare for dinner. However, when Rick returns to find her cooking the delicious hare and he has only a small ptarmigan, he becomes enraged. He beats Izzy, throws her dinner into the fire and burns the slingshot. This only makes Izzy more determined to leave. Izzy finally decides she can no longer go on when Rick murders a man who suddenly appears at their cabin and who knowing what Rick is, is determined to take Izzy to safety.

In the summer before winter sets in Jake Clarke sets out to learn what has happened to his father, Leland Clarke. Jake, his mother and his father, along with his eighty year old grandfather, Amos, had been flown in the previous June to spend a week at a cabin on a northern Manitoba lake. Their pilot, Jim Bridger, never showed up and the radio had been silent for days. Unusual for the start of the summer season. By late August they realized that no one was coming to get them. When Jake's mother cut herself while filleting a fish, her hand soon became infected and she developed sepsis. Jake's father decided to go for help - a journey of one hundred and fifty kilometers to Laroque. Leland told Jake he would return in three weeks but he never did. His mother died three days after his dad left. Amos, who is Cree, tells Jake that years of hard living after the death of his wife, Beth, have left him with little time left - maybe until spring. Eleven months later, having survived the winter, Jake is burying his grandfather and heading south to find his father.

Using maps and following the route planned out by Amos, Jake begins his journey remembering the advice of his grandfather not to travel too quickly. He explained to Jake that he will need to portage over land once the rivers turn north, to get to Sand Lakes Provincial Park and into the Churchill watershed. Fighting hordes of mosquitoes, the exhaustion of portaging, and a lack of food, Jake works his way slowly south. Along the way through ridges and small lakes, Jake remembers his father's survival checklist: shelter, fire, water, food and his grandfather's tips on traveling in the unforgiving northern wilderness.

Jake's travels on the river do not last very long however when disaster strikes. He runs into a log jam causing his canoe to sink. Without a canoe, Jake must now travel through the bush on foot which is not only more difficult but takes longer. One day in early summer, Jake hears gunshots which lead him to Izzy's cabin. Hidden in the bush,he witnesses Izzy attempting to escape using what Jake recognizes as Bill Six Rivers canoe. To his horror he witnesses Rick's vicious assault on Izzy. Unable to process what he's seen and unwilling to accept the possibility that he might have to kill a man, Jake decides to move on quickly. However, unable to get the memory of Izzy's beating out of his mind, Jake knows he has to return and help the girl whom he believes will not live much longer. When he reaches the cabin, Jake watches as Izzy tries to drown herself in the lake. Grabbing the canoe he quickly enters the lake, pulling a drowning Izzy to safety. Rick is not content to lose Izzy and despite shooting at Jake, the two manage to make it to safety. But they know Rick will not give up Izzy so easily. Can they make it back to Laroque before Rick tracks and finds them?


Nowhere Wild is an exciting story about the struggle of two teens to survive in the harsh post-pandemic Canadian wilderness. Jake Clarke must survive a 260 kilometer journey through the bush relying on his wilderness skills to find food and shelter. Jake's narrative is filled with detailed descriptions of bush skills, encounters with wildlife and travel. His ability to overcome the difficulties he encounters will determine whether or not he survives the journey back to Laroque. Jake draws on his Cree heritage and his experience working with his father's venturing business to help him survive. Until he meets Izzy, Jack has no idea what has happened to people outside the bush.

The situation with Izzy forces Jake to confront the possibility of having to kill a man in order to save someone's life. Jake has to make a choice between being home in Laroque in ten days time or going back and rescuing a girl he doesn't know. What he does know is that "His father had asked him, all those months ago, to do him proud --to do what needed to be done." and the fact that the girl knew what was going to happen to her if she was caught by the man, trying to escape. Despite this, Jake struggles with the possibility of having to kill a man. "Deer and bears were animals -- food. To be respected, no doubt -- but food just the same. Deer blood was no more disgusting to him than oil to a mechanic. But human blood - that blood would stain. It would leave a deep, dark patch on his soul."

Two weeks after their escape, Jake realizes that Rick has not given Izzy up. Not knowing all the details of Izzy's relationship with Rick he questions her as this will influence whether or not he needs to use his gun. Later as they are being pursued by Rick, Izzy asks Jake for the gun. Jake tells her "Even if you could handle this gun, shooting a man is not like shooting a deer, Iz." Jack wants to be the one to fire his father's gun but he still holds out hope that it won't come to that.

Izzy Chamberlain must survive the brutal abuse at the hands of Rick until the summer and she can make her escape. Izzy is a resourceful young girl but unlike Jake, because of what she has experienced she appears to have no qualms about the possibility of killing Rick. She realizes that he will never let her go.

Beernink builds his story to a heart-pounding conclusion. Not including a narrative by Rick places the reader in the same situation as Jake and Izzy; they have no idea where he is or if he's even following them. Yet the confrontation with Rick is not unexpected and in that regard he's a very predictable antagonist. Readers would have appreciated a map showing the location of Izzy and Rick's cabin and the route travelled by Jack south towards Laroque and Thompson. Details are never really given about the flu pandemic except that almost everyone who contracts the illness, dies, leaving a world that collapses economically and socially.

Beernink who is a software developer living with his family in Seattle, grew up in southwestern Ontario. Nowhere Wild is his debut novel.

Book Details:

Nowhere Wild by Joe Beernink
Toronto: HarperCollins Publishers Ltd       2015
296 pp.

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