Can one live alone? Can wild things be tamed? If one always has an exit through which one can escape, is that trust? These are the ideas explored by Clay Carmichael in first young adult novel aptly named Wild Things.
According to Carmichael, “this story first strayed into my life on four white pink-padded paws.” Before you start thinking that the book is about cats, it only partially is. It’s also about eleven-year-old Zoe who trusts no one, her reclusive Uncle Henry who takes Zoe in when her mother dies, and a wild boy whose identity remains unknown for most of the book. Intertwined with Zoe’s narrative are short reflective chapters told from Mr. C’mere’s (the cat) viewpoint. As such, this book made for one of my more unique reading experiences this year. Consider these opening lines: “Humans were diggers and buriers, the cat thought, like dogs. The day the girl came, the digging began again….” With those two sentences, the book pulled me in.
Next Zoe picks up the narrative. She and her uncle are shopping for groceries. Zoe is not impressed. Yes, at first, she thought him charitable to adopt her just shy of a foster home. Two days in, she viewed him as a big grimy guy who looked sore whenever he looked her way. She decides he’s plotting his escape. Except now the tables are turned. Uncle Henry makes it clear he’s around to stay. Being used to adults always walking out on her, Zoe isn’t sure how to handle this new situation. When Henry arranges for her to attend school, she stays up late into the night waiting for him to go to bed. She plans to runaway, just long enough to teach him who’s boss. She figured that like everyone else, he would also let her do whatever she wanted.
Remember that Henry is also a recluse. Obviously, he isn’t going to be every ophan’s dream. According to Zoe, this would involve a strong important man who swept in and promised to take care of everything. Henry instead faces his own adjustments in having a niece around to care for and protect. No longer can he retreat to his sculptures whenever he wants, although sometimes he still does. This book is about their changing relationship. It’s also about other wild things: feral cat Mr. C’mere and mystery boy. About the latter, I don’t want to give anything away, but will tell you that an armed stand-off is involved.
The book has its flaws. I don’t know how many twelve-year-olds would truly stand for being picked up and carried by an adult. Zoe allows Henry to pick her up, twice I believe. Zoe seems incredibly literary for someone with such an unstable life. I am not sure why cats would really prefer tap water to natural water. Some of the descriptions are overly long. One of the villians in Zoe’s life seems to dislike her without valid reason. Over all, the book seems negative towards God, despite the positive portrayal of a Padre. And intriguing as those cat flashbacks are, some of them still confuse me. Because of these flaws, I delayed reviewing this book until I could gain some perspective.
As it turns out, for a week after I read Wild Things, I could not read another book. Every other story paled in comparison. The language and the intensity of the story strongly impacted me. The thematic musings also stuck with me. Carmichael notes that a cat inspired this tale. Hopefully, she continues to have many such inspirations and readers are blessed with plenty more of her novels.
Reprinted from Allison’s Book Bag. This article is original in content and not to be reproduced without permission. Copyright 2010.