Wilderness tells the story of Tom and Johnny, two young (9 & 10) boys who go on an adventure holiday to Lapland with their mother. It also tells the story of their elder, half sister, Grainne, as she stays at home in Dublin with her father, waiting to meet the mother who abandoned her when she was a toddler. While Grainne deals with an emotionally charged meeting, the boys are facing the adventure of their lives as their mother goes missing on a dog sled ride and they set out into the wastes of Lapland to find her.
One one hand the material is quite mature and sophisticated. Doyle explores the nature of parenting, what it means to be parted from your mother, and what it means to be part of a family. Some of what he writes is emotionally very raw, and poses rather deep questions.
On the other hand, it is also a rip roaring adventure story about two boys and their wilderness adventure. The balance, in my opinion is perfect. The episodes about Grainne are fewer and shorter than the episodes about the boys and if, as a young reader, you wanted to skip the bits about Grainne it wouldn’t hurt at all.
The story is very boy friendly. The boys travel on sleds and light fires and look after husky teams and use big knives. They set out together without grown ups to save their mother, and the story has plenty of tension and thrilling episodes that make it a genuinely page turning read.
Because it is quite simply and powerfully told I think this would be suitable for children as young as eight, but could easily stand reading by teenagers up to fifteen or sixteen.