Wild Bird

December 29, 2017

Author: Wendelin Van Draanen.


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.

My Thoughts:

This turned out to be a surprisingly uplifting story. Wren is a highschool student spiraling down hard and fast towards a crash landing that might be deadly. It all started small, when – lonely and unhappy in a new school – she made a single bad choice and accepted drugs (just this once!) from a new ‘friend’. Fast forward three years, and Wren is still lonely and unbalanced. But now she’s also addicted, shoplifting with her friend, running errands for what is essentially a teenage drug ring, and increasingly violent with her family. Her life is going nowhere good, and it’s going fast.

So her parents step in with drastic measures. Wren is marched out of her home in the middle of the night, off to who-knows-where in the custody of a police officer, with no explanations or apologies. Who-knows-where turns out to be a camp “for troubled teens” somewhere in the desert, and it is here that the real story begins.

Since the whole story focuses on Wren, internally and externally, the other characters are painted with light brushstrokes, just enough for her to interact with. This seemed fairly realistic, given the situation: Wren is self-centered and oblivious at the beginning, and in a story told through her eyes we’re not going to see complex characterization in other people.

Wild Bird is very well done. How can I describe this?

Van Draanen gives us an angry, bitter character who feels real, without slipping into an angry, bitter story. She gives us a redemption story of growth and forgiveness without quite crossing the line into unrealistic sentimentality.

I especially love the full-circle touches near the end, when Wren sees other newcomers behaving in much the same way she did – crying, screaming, blaming anything and everything but themselves – and is sorry for them. She’s not embarrassed, or proud. Just sorry.

Content Review:

Sexual Content: One kiss.

Language: None.

Violence: Character says her friend once tried to smother her with a pillow. She also remembers going on a rampage through her house smashing various items.

Other: Note that everything in this section was portrayed in a negative light. //  Teens are shown conveying and smoking drugs, and shoplifting. One character remembers carving a swastika into her mother’s piano, as a way of lashing out.


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