Once upon a time, almost fifty years ago, climate change and deforestation and humans ransacking everything good and beautiful, had driven our planet to breaking point. Nature was dying – plants and trees, animals, birds, insects – new species disappeared every day. But then the ReWilders created the disease.
Juniper is thirteen and her brother, Bear, is six. They aren’t like the other kids in their school. They were born in the Wild and are immune to the disease the ReWilders created.
We came from the Wild and one day we’ll go back there.
I’m a sucker for stories that feature outcasts and these siblings are some of the most loveable outcasts I’ve ever met. Juniper’s love for her brother is fierce. It’s protective. It’s unconditional. It’s the kind of love that wraps you up and keeps you warm because you know that no matter what anyone else thinks about you, this one person will always be there for you.
Their grandmother, Annie Rose, is one of the last Plant Keepers in the city. I absolutely adored Annie Rose! My brain skyrocketed into Fahrenheit 451 level anxiety when I learned this city had banned books that are even tangentially related to nature. I loved Annie Rose even more when I found out she had not only hidden forbidden books in her home, but she’d also fed the Wild to her grandchildren through their pages.
“The books you read when you’re young, they become part of you.”
After spending some time shadowing Juniper and Bear as they navigated the grey of the city, entering the green of the Wild felt wondrous. As Juniper and Bear took in their new landscape, with its colours and textures and sounds, I felt like I was rediscovering my love of nature. I could feel them breathing in cleaner air and seeing animals they’d only ever known via forbidden books coming to life before their eyes.
My heart attached itself to Ghost from the first time I saw them. I’d love to tell you all about Ghost but don’t want to ruin anything for you. Keep a piece of your heart reserved for them though. They deserve it.
This book has been on my radar for months but for a long time I didn’t think this was the right book for me right now. Between the sheer number of climate change news articles I see daily and the fact that huge chunks of Australia have been burning for the past three months, I wasn’t sure I wanted to be spending my escape from reality time thinking about it as well.
It kept nagging at me though, every time I saw positive reviews piling up. It didn’t hurt that it’s published by Little Tiger Group, one of my favourite children and YA publishers. I’m so glad I finally couldn’t help myself because my initial reasons for hesitating were unfounded. Yes, this book does deal with some big issues. Yes, it’s scary because it’s not farfetched; this could become our world if we don’t make some serious changes to the way we treat the planet. But, yes, there’s also so much love and courage and hope infused in this book.
I knew from the blurb that Juniper and Bear would leave the city at some point, yet I still cried when they did, although I’m definitely not tearing up about it now as I’m writing this review. I also didn’t tear up another time later in the book and I most certainly didn’t notice any additional water in my eyes twice during the acknowledgements. That must have been someone else.
I loved the importance of names in this book. Because Juniper’s name related to the Wild and this was a serious no no in this highly controlled environment, she was called June instead when she was at school. The name of the city’s leader was well suited to their description. Although I didn’t even wonder about its name in the beginning, when I finally learned the origin of the name of the valley where Juniper and Bear were born it had such a lovely symmetry to it. I’m going to pay much more attention to the names of people and places during my inevitable reread.
I kept wondering if the reason given to people for Portia Steel’s absence was a cover up for her having succumbed to the disease herself, or maybe that was just wishful thinking on my part. I’m also wondering what became of Annie Rose, Ms Endo and Etienne, and hoping for the best.
Kate Forrester’s cover image was what initially drew me to this book but it’s only now that I’ve finished reading it that I can appreciate all of the details that they included. I’m seeing more of the story in its design the longer I look at it.
Content warnings include bullying, gun violence, injury and death of people and animals, and mention of mental health.
Thank you so much to NetGalley and Stripes Publishing, an imprint of Little Tiger Group, for the opportunity to read this book.
Once Upon a Blurb
Juniper Greene lives in a walled city from which nature has been banished, following the outbreak of a deadly man-made disease many years earlier. While most people seem content to live in such a cage, she and her little brother Bear have always known about their resistance to the disease, and dream of escaping into the wild. To the one place humans have survived outside of cities. To where their mother is.
When scientists discover that the siblings provide the key to fighting the disease, the pair must flee for their lives. As they cross the barren Buffer Zone and journey into the unknown, Juniper and Bear can only guess at the dangers that lie ahead. Nature can be cruel as well as kind … Will they ever find the home they’ve been searching for?