Review - The Wilderness War by Julia Green



'We have to stop them,' Noah said, 'and I've got a plan.'
'What?' Toby said.
'I've already built a lookout.' Noah pointed to his wooden platform, high in the ash tree. 'And I thought, if everyone spreads out their dens, we can cover the whole area of Wilderness. Hiding places, to spy from.'
'Hmm,' Toby cupped his hands around his own head, as if he was holding his brain together. He frowned.
'Shut up. I'm thinking.'
Noah's chest really hurt. Maybe he'd pulled a muscle, lugging the heavy up the tree by himself. Or maybe it what something else. He swallowed hard.
'OK. Got it. Attack is the best form of defence,' Toby said. 'We'll make weapons. Arm ourselves. Paint our faces. Fight them.'
'But who are they, exactly?'
'Anyone coming on our land. Developers, builders. Council people. We'll attack them all.'

(The Wilderness Wars, Julia Green. P27.)  

The adults call it ‘derelict land’. Noah and his friends see beyond to the wilderness. It is where the play their best games, build dens and camp through the night. Now a sign has appeared. The Wilderness is for sale. Whoever owns it will get lots of money if they can sell it for development. Noah and his friends are determined to stop the sale. This means war. Some of the children set to work making weapons, while others try to fathom regulations about property and land ownership.

 At the centre of the story is Noah. The Wilderness is his escape from school, from being told what to do. It is a place where he can learn by observation. Of all the children, Noah knows most about the wildlife. Only he has seen the deer, and he befriends a young crow. Noah is like the animals, timid but observant. Where Toby appoints himself the leader and thinks of tactics, Noah would rather the trouble would disappear and leave him and his Wilderness in peace. I think this is the most important message of the story. If we want to save our wild spaces we must fight for them.

Toby is the other character to develop. For most of the children the war begins as a game. Toby assumes the role of military commander, and refuses to consider the battle might be better fought without weapons and noise. His anger stems from the situation between his parents. The reader knows this, but does not meet his parents until later in the story. This makes it easier to imagine Toby’s perspective – we know Toby’s Dad has moved out due to the situation, but like Toby we do not understand exactly what is going on.  

There is some interesting exploration of gender division. The girls fight alongside the boys, and build a pirate ship den, but the boys are still sniffy when the girls want to use glitter on their map of the wilderness. There is a wonderful moment when it seems to catch up with Noah that his friends’ mother is a successful lawyer. It is subtly done. He thinks of her as ‘Mrs’ then amends it to ‘Dr’. Noah looks past Asha and Anil’s mother to the person successful in her career.

Green has a grasp on the things which matter to children, from friendship groups to being taking seriously by adults. Noah’s young voice comes through the third person narration making the language the story is told in relevant to its young readers. At every book event I have been to this year people have asked the same questions: ‘How many adults read children’s books?’ followed by ‘How does that affect what is written for children?’ The Wilderness War has found a balance. It is well written, but it portrays a world recognisable to young readers. One for kids and big kids alike.

NB. I had the pleasure of doing an Arvon course tutored by Julia Green this April. As well as talking about her creative process, she told us Noah's Wilderness was inspired by land close to where she lives. Many thanks to Julia - I acknowledge some of my thoughts will have originated in what Julia told us. 

  • On my village green, there is a patch of wild land. Do you have any green spaces you would fight for? 

You Might Also Like