Tuesday, February 12, 2019

YA-For-A-Day: THE WILD LANDS by Paul Greci

THE WILD LANDS by Paul Greci (Imprint, January 29, 2019)

The Mafioso has to admit straight-up that he counts Paul as a friend--and that Paul was a member of the group blog Project Middle Grade Mayhem, which I managed. This, of course, has made The Don wildly happy. As he was famously quoted by Mario Puzo, "Friendship is everything. Friendship is more than talent. It is more than the government. It is almost the equal of family."

And, as he just told me, "You should be doing nuttin' but writing 'bout your friends. 'Cos, when I'm gone, that's all you'se gonna have left. Capice?" I guess that's a strong green light.

What It's About (from Goodreads): 
Natural disasters and a breakdown of civilization have cut off Alaska from the world and destroyed its landscape. Now, as food runs out and the few who remain turn on each other, Travis and his younger sister, Jess, must cross hundreds of miles in search of civilization.

The wild lands around them are filled with ravenous animals, desperate survivors pushed to the edge, and people who’ve learned to shoot first and ask questions never.

Travis and Jess will make a few friends and a lot of enemies on their terrifying journey across the ruins of today’s world—and they’ll have to fight for what they believe in as they see how far people will go to survive.

Opening Lines: 
"With any luck we'll be gone by tomorrow," Dad says.
I nod and keep stuffing the tent into its sack, looking forward to getting out of this ash bucket but not to the four hundred mile walk north. And not to cramming my six-foot frame into a small tent with my mom, dad, and sister." 

Why I Loved It:
Paul Greci lives in Alaska, and seems to have taken the land into his very sinews and bones. As in his debut middle grade, Surviving Bear Island, the setting is a character in itself. Around Fairbanks, the land has been ravaged by fires, and what is left of society is living on the very edge.

The characterization is great. Paul deals with a large cast of characters, but the ones who truly matter are made indelible by his deft descriptions. 17-year-old Travis chafes against his father's hard-nosed commands, but comes to an understanding of why his father was the way he was. His ten-year-old sister, Jess, misses her mother deeply, yet Jess shows amazing grit and resolve as she keeps up with the older characters as they make their way through many miles through treacherous terrain. The main antagonist, Dylan, is a truly frightening character because he seems to have some sort of power to read the land and sense what's going on.

There are many high-intensity scenes and, at times, I was on the edge of my seat. (At one point, a chapter ended with a cliffhanger when it looked like Dylan would make a surprise reappearance. I defy any reader not to scream.) [I told the Don I was screaming because his favorite soccer team, Juventus, had just scored a goal. He believed me.]

The issues of climate change, environmental destruction, and the collapse of society hang over this masterful YA dystopian novel--but it is never a polemic because the characters are so well-formed and the writing so self-assured. I wholeheartedly recommend this novel to all those who love survival stories, heart-pounding thrillers, and novels set in wild places.

Because I know Paul, I was able to bug him with some questions I was curious about. Here are his answers:

MGM: Was there anything in particular that sparked your idea for The Wild Lands?

Paul Greci: I spend a lot of time in the Alaska wilderness and love writing wilderness survival stories. I am fascinated both with survival and with climate change, so putting the two together was a story idea that resonated with me.

MGM: How long did you work on the novel?

Paul Greci: The Wild Lands took about ten months from the first word of the first draft to a final draft where I was offered representation by a couple of agents. When we finally found a publisher a few years later, I did a couple revisions based on the notes I received from my editor. In contrast, Surviving Bear Island, my first novel, went through about 50 revisions over a ten-year period before it was published.

MGM: Are you writing a sequel?

Paul Greci: I have ideas for a sequel for The Wild Lands but am not actively writing one right now. I am working on revisions for Follow the River (the sequel to Surviving Bear Island) which is due out sometime in the late fall 2019 from Move Books, and on revisions for another YA Alaska wilderness thriller (title forthcoming) due out in January of 2020 from Macmillan. (MGM: Sounds like a busy man!)

And, if you're wary of taking my word for it, because of this friendship thing, this is what some others have said of The Wild Lands: 

This fast-paced book contains all the hallmarks of a classic wilderness survival novel (deadly terrain, vicious predators, literal cliff-hangers) and the best of the postapocalyptic genre ... The author’s decades of Alaskan wilderness experience is evident throughout ... A great high-stakes wilderness survival tale.” ―School Library Journal

“This rugged survival story places a group of teens in a dark, burned-out post-apocalyptic nightmare. Your heart will pound for them as they face terrible dangers and impossible odds. Gripping, vivid, and haunting!” ― Emmy Laybourne, international bestselling author of the Monument 14 trilogy

“A compelling story that wouldn’t let me stop reading. Greci has created both a frightening landscape and characters you believe in and want to survive it.” ― Eric Walters, author of the bestselling Rule of Three series.

“Heart-racing... A rugged wilderness lover's post-disaster survivalist tale.” ―Kirkus Reviews

About the Author (from Macmillan Publisher's page):
Paul Greci has lived and worked in Alaska for over twenty-five years as a field biology technician in remote wilderness areas, a backpacking trip leader for teens, and a naturalist for several outdoor education programs. His middle grade adventure novel, Surviving Bear Island, was a Junior Library Guild Selection and a Scholastic Reading Club Pick. WEBSITE  Twitter  Facebook