When I received my review copy of Out of the Wild, the sequel to Into the Wild, I squealed. I even danced a little jig. (Well, "jig" might be an exaggeration. I'm not that skilled, and I have no rhythm. But I did bounce around.) Shortly after the squealing and the amateur jigging, I realized that other than mentioning its complete awesome-osity, I hadn't really said much about Into the Wild.
So OF COURSE I just had to re-read it. And, as I suspected, it totally stood up to a second reading.
Julie picked up a scrap of shoelace. Once upon a time, it had been an entire sneaker. "Look what you did," she said, wiggling it under her bed.
Snapping out a green vine, the Wild snatched the lace.
"Hey!" She dropped to her knees and peered under the bed. It's not fair, she grumbled to herself. Worst most people had under their beds was dust bunnies. The Wild, a tangled mess of green, tried to tuck itself back into the shadows under her bed, but one vine--the newest--couldn't fit. "Oh, great," Julie said. "Not again." She flattened onto her stomach to see it better. The new growth was pale green with tuliplike leaves that cradled a half-laced, tan-colored boot--the fate of her poor sneaker.
The Wild had swallowed and transformed it.
Into the Wild is set five hundred years after the fairy-tale characters escaped the Wild and the endless repetition of their stories. Zel (previously known as Rapunzel) is Julie's mother, and owns (of course) a hair salon. Puss in Boots is Julie's adopted brother, though he has to pretend to be an ordinary house-cat if there are any neighbors around. She has a real fairy-godmother who lives in Florida, her grandmother, Gothel, is the formerly wicked witch, the seven dwarves are regular dinner guests and Cinderella often picks her up after school in her orange Subaru.
Julie doesn't really feel like she fits into either of her worlds. She is a human, born outside of the Wild. She doesn't know much about the history of her mother's escape, and doesn't even really know much about (or what happened to) her father, Rapunzel's prince. Her best friend Gillian knows about Julie's secret family history, but she sees it as, well, cool, rather than as the bother that Julie sees it as, and she, in Julie's opinion, doesn't take it nearly seriously enough. Gillian understands why Julie often wears odd clothes (flip-flops in October, for instance, because the Wild ate her last pair of sneakers) and acts distracted (who wouldn't?), but the majority of her middle school classmates think she's a weirdo.
Despite all this, when the Wild returns to full strength and Julie's fairy-tale relations as well as the regular people of Massachusetts begin to get pulled in and trapped by the Wild's endlessly looping stories -- it's Julie, the one person who straddles both worlds, who has the only real chance of stopping it.
Gosh. I didn't mean to yap so much about the book's premise, but there's so much going on in this little book that it's easy to ramble on. So know this: Into the Wild is a great pick for younger fantasy readers as well as for older fans of fairy tales and fairy tale re-tellings (especially fans of Fables and of Labyrinth*). It's about family and friends, temptation, betrayal and redemption, love and sacrifice and trust. It's a coming of age story and, of course, a fairy tale. Fairy tale lovers will recognize both well-known and lesser-known stories, but it isn't at all necessary to be familiar with them all to enjoy the book. It's funny, sad, and, at moments, scary.
I'd love to read a book about this same chain of events, but from Gillian's point of view. Even if I never get that wish, I'm very much looking forward the sequel.
*There's a very surreal section near the end that reminded me quite a lot of the ball in Labyrinth: