Animals, trees, flowers, our city forbids them all... 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 journey into the unknown, they soon learn that there's cruelty in nature as well as beauty. Will they ever find the home they're searching for?
Reviewed by Caroline Bradley
Where the World Turns Wild has certainly got everyone taking about viruses. Nicola Penfold couldn’t possibly have know the world into which this story would be released. Her ‘imagined’ future in which a tick-borne virus has ravaged through the world and forced communities to hide in walled cities under strict control with curfews and regulations has some frightening parallels to the circumstances in which we find ourselves today. There are some uncomfortably familiar descriptions of the situation, though with a sensitive approach this story is actually the ideal vehicle to discuss the current world situation, particularly with regards to now commonplace vocabulary such as immunity and isolation and the resetting or ‘rewilding’ of nature when humans are kept at bay.
Juniper and Bear were born in the WILD but for their own safety their parents decide to send them to the City where they grow up in a world protected from the virus but also devoid of nature. Food is artificial, books that refer to nature are burned and everyone is under the control of Portia Steel, the heartless controller of the soulless City. The deadly virus thrives in the land outside the city but with immunity Juniper and her brother can risk the journey, escape the City walls and return to their birthplace.
The plot offers plentiful opportunities for discussion around propaganda, censorship, politics and the ever present enemy: fake news. With clear inspiration from McFarlane and Morris’ Lost Words, the links to nature, classification and identification of plants and flowers are frequent.
Language use is a key characteristic of the heroine Juniper who is the academic and offers us multiple synonyms in her descriptions and explanations to her younger brother Bear, who despite his young years, demonstrates survival skills worthy of his name sake Mr Grylls.
One thing that particularly strikes me about this book is the number of links that can be made to other stories. From classics such as The Secret Garden and The Snow Queen – that are specifically referenced to the plots of Hansel and Gretel and The Jungle Book which can be inferred. Comparisons with more contemporary novels such as Fuzzy Mud, How to Bee, The Middler and Where the River Runs Gold could be made. Similarities with YA fiction and film such as The Hunger Games, Divergent and The Maze Runner are also evident.
One of the mother figures (of which there are many), Annie-Rose and Nicola share the sentiment:
‘The books you read when you’re young, they become part of you’
Where the World Turns Wild was shortlisted for the first Joan Aiken Future Classics Prize in 2017 (under the title Return to the Wild), was selected for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators ’s 2018 Undiscovered Voices anthology and on publication it was book of the week in The Week Junior and The Phoenix magazines. It has since been selected as one of the KS2 titles for Cheltenham Festivals Reading Teachers=Reading Pupils booklist. It may be proving a controversial choice amongst teachers at this sensitive time but it will be a winner with children now and in the future, of that I have no doubt.