Wild Life

by Cynthia DeFelice
Reading level: Ages 9-12


Erik Carlson has just passed the New York State Hunter Safety class, and is all set to go on his first-ever pheasant hunting trip, when his life is turned upside down. His Army reservist parents are both being unexpectedly deployed to Iraq. Instead of going hunting with his friend Patrick, Erik is shipped off to North Dakota to live with Big Darrell and Oma, grandparents he barely knows. Oma seems nice enough, but Erik finds Big Darrell to be unwelcoming and downright mean. When Erik rescues a dog that’s been stuck by a porcupine, Big Darrell says he can’t keep her. But Erik has already named the dog Quill and can’t bear to give her up. After finding his Uncle Dan’s shotgun and camping gear, Erik takes Quill and runs away, certain that they can make it on their own out on the prairie. Family relationships and old secrets complicate this wilderness survival story.

A Junior Library Guild Selection for Spring 2011

From School Library Journal, June 2011
“With both of his Army Reserve parents leaving for six-month deployments to Iraq, Erik, an upstate New York seventh grader, is sent to live with grandparents he hardly knows. He and his friend Patrick have just aced a course in bird hunting, but now he must leave that all behind as he flies to North Dakota to live with Oma and Big Darrell. He is disenchanted with his new setting and unhappy about the intimidating gruffness of his grandfather, but his spirit revives after finding a lost bird dog with a muzzle full of porcupine quills. Despite objections from Big Darrell, Erik eagerly cares for the healing dog he has named Quill. The two bond instantly, and the boy grows reluctant to return this exceptionally well-behaved dog once her owner is identified. Finding camping gear, outdoor clothing, and a shotgun in the shrine-like bedroom of his Uncle Dan, who died in the Vietnam War, Erik rationalizes a plan to take the gun, the dog, and other supplies and go live off the land. In some fine descriptive passages, the story advances through five days of bird-dog hunting, encountering snow, and sleeping under the stars until the reality of the situation finally brings them home to Oma and Big Darrell, who both offer forgiveness. Themes of accepting change and learning to let go are woven into this winning tale of boy and dog.”

Wild Life by Cynthia DeFelice
Hardcover – 192 pages (May 2011)Farrar Straus & Giroux (Juv); ISBN: 0374380015