Wild Bird by Wendelin Van Draanen, author of Flipped and The Running Dream, tells the story about a young girl who is practically dragged from her bed in the middle of the night and sent to a camp for troubled teens. But it’s no youth camp with volleyball nets and swimming pools and cabins with bunk beds in it. In fact, there are no cabins. There are no volleyball nets, and there certainly aren’t any swimming pools. Wren is angry and she’s nowhere near home. But whether she likes it or not, this camping trip may be the last chance she gets to make things right again.
14-year-old Wren Clemens has done some pretty awful things, and her parents have had it with her. So they send her off to the Utah desert for wilderness therapy camp. Of course she hates everything about it. And she’s mad. But she was mad before she got there.
During Wren’s time at the camp, we see her go from the anger and bitter girl that could possibly end up lost and hardened for the rest of her life, to someone that could potentially find that life is worth not only living, but living to the fullest.
The story is simple enough, and probably familiar. Troubled teen goes through a major event and changes her life around. But it’s not as simple as that. Books can be similar in topic to other books, but it’s the characters and the journey those characters take that draw readers in.
Wendelin Van Draanen does that in this book. We’re familiar with troubled teens when it comes to YA stories. In fact, that’s why some of us read such books, because we find them relatable. I can say that I’ve never been in any kind of therapy camp, but there were many times I was angry and bitter and stubborn, much as Wren is.
Along with angry, bitter, and stubborn, Wren is pretty self-involved. She blames everyone but herself for the wrongs she’s done in her life. Definitely relatable to other teens. And that’s what makes her so likable. As rebellious as Wren is, the author gives this character depth and emotion and heart. She makes Wren real, because to many of us, she is real.
The author gives us the first person narrative that works for a story like this. We have to know how she reacts to things and what her internal thought process is to truly appreciate the changes that Wren is going through during her time at the camp. And there’s a lot there to learn about her, about why she did the things she did in that time before her parents sent her away. Van Draanen also paces the story fairly well, not revealing too much until it’s at the right moment. Until we as the reader can truly understand and appreciate why Wren is the way she is and why she’s redeemable.
The actual camping part for Wren was also entertaining to read about. As stated before, this is no “luxury” camp, and Wren and the other girls that are there learn more than just camping. They learn survival skills. They learn to use their strong will on something other than being bitter about their lives. They learn to become someone other than a troublemaker. And when the transformation happens for Wren, it feels pretty good to experience that with her.
The fact that the author was able to write something so engrossing without having to bring romance, fantasy, and even cursing into the story is commendable and refreshing.
RATING: 4 OUT OF 5 STARS
Wild Bird is out now and you can order your copy here on Amazon.
3:47 a.m. That’s when they come for Wren Clemens. She’s hustled out of her house and into a waiting car, then a plane, and then taken on a forced march into the desert. This is what happens to kids who’ve gone so far off the rails, their parents don’t know what to do with them any more. This is wilderness therapy camp.
The Wren who arrives in the Utah desert is angry and bitter, and blaming everyone but herself. But angry can’t put up a tent. And bitter won’t start a fire. Wren’s going to have to admit she needs help if she’s going to survive.
In her most incisive and insightful book yet, beloved author Wendelin Van Draanen’s offers a remarkable portrait of a girl who too a wrong turn and got lost–but who may be able to find her way back again in the vast, harsh desert.
Wendelin Van Draanen has written more than thirty novels for young readers and teens. She is the author of the 18-book Edgar-winning Sammy Keyes series, and wrote Flipped which was named a Top 100 Children’s Novel for the 21st Century by SLJ, and became a Warner Brothers feature film with Rob Reiner directing. Her novel The Running Dream was awarded ALA’s Schneider Family Award for its portrayal of the disability experience.
Van Draanen is also the author of two short chapter-book series. The Gecko & Sticky books, are fun read-alouds, perfect for reluctant readers, and the Shredderman books—featuring a boy who deals with a bully—received the Christopher Award for “affirming the highest values of the human spirit” and became a Nickelodeon made-for-TV movie.
Van Draanen was a classroom teacher for fifteen years. She and her husband reside in California and have two sons.