Wild (2020) – Kristin Hannah

Title:Wild
Author:Kristin Hannah
Publisher/s:Ballantine/Pan Macmillan South Africa
Date of publication:2020
Star Rating:⭐⭐⭐⭐
Disclaimer:Pan Macmillan South Africa kindly sent me a copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.

“…when the trees were dressed in tangerine leaves and danced in the chilly, rain-scented breeze, and the sun was a brilliant shade of gold that illuminated everything. Magic hour.”

Kristin Hannah’s Wild was previously published as Magic Hour in 2006 and was re-released in 2020. Much like her previous works, Hannah is really great at creating incredible atmospheres for her characters, and her character’s struggles with not only traumatic pasts and the people around them, but also the elements that make up the often harsh environments they find themselves in. In true form her characters are resilient despite their almost deafening circumstances.

In the Olympic National Forest located in the Pacific Northwest of the United States, the tiny town of Rain Valley wakes up one day to find a little girl who looks to be about six years old, hiding in a tree. She is filthy, covered in scars, clings to a wolf cub as though it were a puppy, and doesn’t speak a single word. Frightened and clearly traumatised, the little girl is quickly nicknamed The Flying Wolf Girl by the local papers.

The town’s Chief of Police, Ellie Barton, has lived in Rain Valley her whole life and loves her job, but her life has been less than idyllic, what with two failed marriages and a string of affairs with the wrong men trailing behind her. She becomes obsessed with searching for the Girl’s parents, but all that the story seems to attract are news stations and the wrong sort of publicity. In the meanwhile the Girl is under the care of the town’s local doctor, Max Cerrasin, who is relatively new to Rain Valley and has his own dark secrets to keep. Max, though kind and helpful, struggles with the psychological side of the Girl’s case, and confides in Ellie that they may need to call someone else in to help.

Dr. Julia Cates, Ellie’s sister, also grew up in Rain Valley, but left as soon as she graduated high school. Julia and Ellie may have grown up in the same town and in the same house, but they seemed to have had very different experiences growing up. Julia always felt like the outsider in Rain Valley, whereas in New York she became a renowned child psychiatrist and had no intention of returning home. What brings Julia back to Rain Valley is the demise of her business and reputation after a fatal tragedy involving one of her patients. The parents blame Julia, and the media attention is swift and fierce. After years of not speaking Ellie knows Julia is the only person to help and its not as if she has anything else to do.

What happens next is a heart-wrenching story of a little girl whose memories are so traumatic that silence becomes the only way she can keep the horrors at bay. Julia and the Girl, whom she renames Alice (after Alice in Wonderland) form an incredible bond, and despite the media’s opinion of the disgraced psychiatrist, the story becomes national front page news. Everyone becomes invested in Julia’s attempt to get Alice to speak and tell her story.

As Julia works with Alice it becomes clear that the little girl spent a significant amount of time in the ‘wild’, as evident in her connection with nature and her ability to communicate with animals. Alice’s condition is rare and deeply disturbing, and Julia begins to fear they may never find Alice’s parents, and may never learn what happened to her.

Kristin Hannah’s story of a ‘wild child’ rescued and reasserted back into society is not only a journey of healing, acceptance, and the faith we have in others, but is also a tender look at love in its many forms. In the midst of Alice’s journey, Julia finds herself reluctantly falling in love, and even Ellie finds love in the unlikeliest of places – right in front of her. The town’s ability to adopt and care for Alice is endearing and sweet, and much like the Rain Valley community, the reader also becomes very quickly invested in Alice’s well-being.

Wild is undoubtedly a compulsive read, and Kristin Hannah is clearly in her element as a writer of complicated relationships, the notion of the unconventional family and characters who feel undeserving of love. Though the story is heart-breaking, the conclusion will bring great satisfaction to readers of this emotionally drenched novel.

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