Wild Bird

Wild Bird by Wendelin Van Draanen

First Lines: “Wren…” My name is floating around me. Bouncing on the clouds in my mind. “Wren…wake up, Wren.” Everything’s cocoony. Drifty. The clouds are so soft. “Wren, come on. It’s time to go.” Go? Go where? Who said that? I don’t recognize his voice.

My library added this to their ebook collection recently and I thought the premise sounded pretty cool. I’d never read anything by Wendelin Van Draanen, despite the fact that Flipped is so popular and the 6th graders at my school read it every year. This seemed like a good place to start.

Wren’s world changes at 3:47 a.m. That’s when she’s taken from home, hustled to a car then a plane and forced to march into the desert of Utah. This is what happens to kids who have gone so far off the rails that their parents don’t know what to do with them anymore. Wren is now enrolled in Wilderness Therapy Camp. When Wren arrives at camp, she’s angry and bitter. But those emotions won’t help her survive. Even a burning rage can’t start a fire or build a tent. In order to survive, Wren’s going to have to do the one thing she absolutely doesn’t want to do…ask for help.

This was such a simple, beautiful, hard-hitting book. 14-year -old Wren is a mess. Desperate to help her, her parents ship her off to a camp in the middle of the desert to turn her life around. Wren, as you can imagine, is initially angry and upset about this. But the desert is about self-discovery and maybe it isn’t so bad after all.

Wren is a hard person to like, but it’s easy to feel sympathy for her if that makes sense. When we first meet her, she’s high or drunk or both. She’s vicious and mean and spiteful. But the story is told with flashbacks that begin to show us how Wren got to this point and it quickly starts to make sense. The story is all about her character development and that was excellent. I loved seeing her change as time went by.

Since the plot is so much about Wren learning more about herself and surviving the desert, there isn’t exactly a lot of “action”. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t interesting. There are other characters we start to get to know who are equally amazing and the skills Wren learns (starting a fire, building a tent, etc.) have their moments. I just really enjoyed that this story was so much about Wren’s growth. I can’t get over how engrossing that was.

The story deals with a lot of darker topics, as everyone at this camp is struggling through something, usually involving behavior issues and drug use. While it seems like the lexile is meant for younger readers (as is the age of the protagonist), it sometimes felt too heavy for that age group. Maybe that’s just me. There’s no profanity and nothing graphic about the story, but it does go into details about drugs. I’m sure there are people this age who do need to see this, though. I just know it’s probably not going to be taught in schools very often for that reason. No matter how good the overall message is.

This truly was wonderful. I read the whole thing in a day.

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