Wild Bird by Wendelin Van Draanen (review)
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Reviewed by
Van Draanen, Wendelin Wild Bird. Knopf, 2017 [320p]
Library ed. ISBN 978-1-101-94045-7 $20.99
Trade ed. ISBN 978-1-101-94044-0 $17.99
E-book ed. ISBN 978-1-101-94046-4 $10.99
Reviewed from galleys R Gr. 6-9

Wren Clemmens is off the rails, and the only thing her parents can think to do is pack her off, with no prior warning, to a Utah camp that specializes in rehabbing kids with behavioral disorders through strenuous physical outdoor activity, promotion of independent survival skills, and counseling. Wren goes off kicking and screaming, but the program actually works for her. There’s something about facing another morning of uncooked dried food, field-treated water, and soggy sleeping bags that makes a kid eventually listen to instruction on how to find fresh water, put up a rainproof tent, and build a cook fire. Each fresh skill enhances Wren’s self-esteem and confidence, but that doesn’t mean she’s ready to spill her innermost thoughts to the counselors—a step critical to release at the scheduled end of the session. Van Draanen limns a strict, but not brutal or draconian, program and emphasizes the care the staff takes in assuring the participants’ well-being, even when they don’t realize it. She also makes it clear that much of the rehab is accomplished through interactions among the “campers,” and that not everyone will succeed in the program or receive adequate support in its aftermath. The interventions of a local Paiute storyteller feel like a wise-old-Indian cameo performance, but the dual threads of Wren’s story—her adjustment to camp and her flashback bad girl story—are well integrated. This is an involving tale of a middle-schooler who took a very wrong turn but manages to straighten her own path.

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