"I believe in possibility. Of magic, of omens, of compasses, of love. Some of it's a little bit true." Sixteen-year-old Tal is a Wanderer—a grifter whose life is built around the sound of wheels on the road, the customs of her camp, and the artful scams that keep her fed. With her brother, Wen, by her side, it's the only life she's ever known. It's the only one she's ever needed. Then, in a sleepy Southern town, the queen of cons picks the wrong mark when she meets Spencer Sway—the clean-cut Socially Secured boy who ends up hustling her instead of the other way around. For the first time, she sees a reason to stay. As her obligations to the camp begin to feel like a prison sentence, the pull to leave tradition behind has never been so strong. But the Wanderers live by signs, and all the signs all say that Tal and Spencer will end disaster and grief. Is a chance at freedom worth almost certain destruction? Wandering Wild is an achingly romantic journey of tradition and self-discovery—a magical debut.
Tal is a teen who has never known anything but the road, and she thinks she loves it. Wen has also lived on the road his whole life, but he dreams of stability and school and books and a “normal” life. WANDERING WILD follows the two of them and centers itself as they and their band of Wanderers end up camping outside of Cedar Falls, South Carolina.
I don’t know anything about wanderers/grifters/gypsies/travelers/rovers, but the lifestyle portrayed in WANDERING WILD rings true. One of the things I liked about the book was that it made me want to learn more about them.
The book is contemporary YA, and the relationship between Tal and Spencer takes center stage. Although she’s definitely a strong female character, it’s a tad disconcerting that Tal doesn’t realize the lack of freedom she has leading the Wanderer life until a boy comes along to show her how things COULD be. However, many people need to see themselves reflected in the eyes of others before seeing their true potential, and eye-rolling gender stereotypes aside, Tal’s romance with Spencer Sway feels real. What really tugged at my heart though is Wen’s romance with books … that’s what really made me sigh.
The Spirit of the Falconer, the religion that drives the Wanderers, is a bit of a distraction throughout the book. Owls, both real and symbolic, arrive on the scene at random intervals and I was never really sure what they meant. The characters in the book were equally confused, so I don’t feel too awful about being mystified by them.
One of the real highlights of WANDERING WILD is the language. The descriptions are gorgeous at times, like when Spencer says to Tal, “Because when I’m with you, I see colors that don’t exist.” I confess that I melted a little bit inside with that one.
All in all, WANDERING WILD was fun and interesting, and the setting and characters were different enough to keep me engaged and reading. I really liked Tal, and I adored Wen. Maybe it’s too much to hope that he gets a story of his own down the line …
My thanks to the publisher for a copy of the book in exchange for my honest review.
A new world/lifestyle to explore
I really loved the voice of this novel! Grifters are those who wander though towns on the look out for the next con, heist. Taylor does a great job of showing the life of teens that are wanderers. Tal isn't all hardcore. Readers see her daily struggles of trying to make enough money to save her younger brother from being beaten. Though she thinks she's 'free' from things like being forced to stay in one town or even to attend school, she's really not. Some of the customs and folk legends are mingled throughout. Like the whole omen of owls.
I was hooked from the very first page! The almost musical voice is very addictive: Here's an example where Tal describes her relationship with Spencer:
...Using that one word-love-he's made us into something so sugary sweet we have to be phony. Like cotton candy and Pixy Stix and promises.
The other characters are equally intriguing. Lando, the Boss's son, who is more controlling. Sonia, the former BFF, who change after being married only reminds Tal of what she doesn't want. Rona, the woman who takes over watching Tal and her brother after their mother is in jail. The town of Cedar Falls which shows the possibilities and also the ray of hope that there might in fact be a way out of the prison-like experience that Tal feels.
Gripping portrayal where two different ways of life collide set in a quiet Southern town with promises of hope and redemption.