The Wildlands, Abby Geni, Counterpoint, 2018, 357 pp
I read this novel for a reading group. When we discussed it last week we all agreed that it started out rather unimpressive, got better as it went along, then became totally gripping and had a perfect ending.
The McCloud family of Mercy, Oklahoma, lost every bit of their home and farm due to a Category Five tornado. The four siblings had already lost their mother at the birth of the youngest; their father disappeared without a trace in the tornado. Darlene, the eldest, was left with no choice but to give up her dream of college and take care of Tucker, Jane and Cora.
Tucker soon took off. Darlene worked at the local grocery store while Jane and Cora went to school. All of them were crammed into a rundown motor home living in near poverty.
After a year, Tucker resurfaces, having become an eco-terrorist. He lures 9 year old Cora to join him on a cross-country mission to wreak havoc on those who mistreat animals.
I felt the author took too long setting up the story with a tightly controlled narrative style, telling rather than showing the extreme emotional distress of these siblings. Once Cora leaves with Tucker the pace and style of the story picked up.
It was then I saw that Darlene's tightly controlling nature had been the voice of that first part. When Tucker is in control of the story, it gets progressively wilder and crazy. Darlene's life then becomes a desperate search for her abducted sister.
I have read novels about eco-terrorism before. Like any terrorist, a madness takes over with such characters. The author got that exactly right with Tucker. You don't know until the very last chapters whether Cora will survive the madness or perish.
All in all, a great read with a well-constructed plot.