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Contemporary Realistic Fiction, LOVELACE nominee 2020, Middle Grade Readers, The Environment

THE END OF THE WILD by Nicole Helget…a 2020 LOVELACE nominee Division I & II

The End of the Wild is an interesting story about Fern, an 11-year-old girl living with her 2 younger brothers and her stepfather, Toivo.  In order to feed the family Toivo often hunts (poaches) game and Fern collects various nuts, mushrooms and roots from the forest near their home.  Her mother and youngest brother have died in a car accident two years before we meet Fern for the first time.  Toivo is a veteran who drinks too much and suffers with PTSD. While Fern’s family is poor, her maternal grandfather is a powerful, wealthy man in the town where they live.  He had disinherited Fern’s mother when she married Toivo. Now that Toivo is struggling to support the family, Grandpa is trying to legally have the children removed from Toivo’s care and placed in his home.

When a fracking company comes to town promising many high-paying jobs Fern learns that part of the process will be the destruction of the forest near their home that her family so depends on for survival. (Fracking is a process in which fractures in rocks below the earth’s surface are opened and widened by injecting chemicals and liquids at high pressure: used especially to extract natural gas or oil.) When her best friend’s father takes a job with the fracking company Fern is appalled and it causes her to question herself, her friends and family, and others in the community. Woven through these plot elements is a subplot dealing with forgiveness and healing. I particularly liked some of Fern’s backstory where she talks about some of her unkind behavior in the past and the insight she has developed regarding compassion and friendship.

Fern is eminently likeable.  She speaks with a sincere and genuine voice. Although the conclusion is satisfying as it relates to family growth and dynamics, it–realistically–does NOT wrap up all aspects of the fracking issue. The End of the Wild looks at both sides of the fracking controversy without arriving at a definitive conclusion–which is one of the reasons the story resonates so strongly. It is as much a story about how to discuss both sides of a strongly controversial issue as it is about the issue of fracking, itself.  The End of the Wild is paced well, lending itself to both independent and read-aloud possibilities.  It would make a terrific classroom read related to environmental issues like conservation, drilling, fracking, fossil fuels, etc.–especially at this time in our world when we desperately need to acknowledge and address significant environmental challenges going forward.

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