Wild Children by Richard Roberts
Release Date: December 12, 2012
Publisher: Curiosity Quills Press
Buy It: Amazon
Bad children are punished. Be bad, a child is told, and you’ll be turned into an animal, marked with your crime.
The Wild Children are forever young, but that, too, can be a curse.
Five children each tell a different story of what they became:
One learns that wrong can be right, and her curse may be a blessing.
Another is so Wild he must learn the simplest lesson, to love someone else.
An eight year old girl must face fear and doubt as she dies of old age.
Love and strangeness hit the lives of two brothers in the form of a beautiful flaming bird.
Finally, the oldest child learns that what is right can be horribly wrong.
Together they tell a sixth story, of a Wild Girl who can’t speak for herself, and doesn’t seem Wild at all.
Warning: This one is a bit of a teal deer!
The beginning of this book is brutal! At first, I wanted to call it middle-grade, but it’s so dark and heavy that I changed the genre to YA. I wasn’t immediately sure of the date, but there’s a one-room schoolhouse, and the town seems to be a little Puritan in its Christianity. (I eventually figured out that this was ancient Rome, a time you could not pay me to live in.) The priest hits children in front of their parents, for instance, and the parents do nothing. I assumed the setting was back when children were property, not people. The Wild Boy at the beginning of the book sums it up nicely: “Adults don’t love you, they just want you to follow their rules until you grow up just like they did and make your own children follow the rules.” Things don’t go exactly as planned though, and Jenny, our narrator, soon becomes Bray. Bray’s story covers the first act of the tale (one act per child, though Bray is the only one who gets two scenes).
During the second act, we meet some more people from Bray’s life, including the son of a lord who’s in love with her, and Hind, a now-Wild Girl who Bray knew back when they were human. Bray cannot talk, but Hind has only a donkey’s ears and tail, and is beautiful, so she is a pet instead of a servant, which is what most donkey Children become. We follow Bray through her new home, where she is confronted by Mourn, a Dove Child, something Bray wasn’t aware existed. Mourn tells Bray she wasn’t meant to be a donkey, and after awhile, Bray meets Coo, who is the subject of our third act. Coo is old, though she still looks young, and she is very concerned with making her peace with God. Her greatest strength, kindness to others, is also her greatest weakness, but Coo eventually leads Bray to redemption. When Bray’s story ends, I found myself missing her desperately.
Our second act is about Jinx, a Cat Child, very rare, and the only one of his kind in the vicinity. Jinx’s story is hazy, because he doesn’t really live in the human world, and he doesn’t really see them either. His story confused me a bit, but it looks as though he’s trying to cheat his way into Heaven by stealing pain from other Wild Children and selling them to the Weaver. Coo is involved in Jinx’s story too, trying to save him, to bring him back from the world he lives in in this mind. And then, we circle back to the girl this book is really about–Hind. Black cats are my favorite, so this one made me sadder than the others, though this is not by any means a happy tale. I was kind of offended at the revelation that one had to be a very sinful child to become a cat, because it’s obvious cats are superior to almost every other mammal, just saying. In Jinx’s tale, we learn that the children become a certain type of animal due to a certain type of sin on their souls. I found that kind of disappointing, actually. I wanted the reason to be cooler.
Let’s stop for a minute here and let me tell you about how awful it is to read 300+ pages of children and animals being abused and murdered. I cried a lot reading this book. Animal death is my hard limit, and all the animals seem to die. It wasn’t a happy, Disney-fied fairytale. It is very grim, and no one seems happy, as no one seems to get what they want. The Wild Children are treated terribly. I struggled reading this one because no one is happy for very long. The humans are just evil in this book. HOWEVER. It’s not all abuse and death, though there’s very little fun either. It’s a complexly woven story, a sad one, one with a moral, one that makes you think. That alone is worth all the tears I cried while reading about Jinx and Coo and Bray. I read somewhere that Roberts calls this novel his “masterpiece” and I don’t think he’s wrong about that. Every story has pain, but they all seem to have a bittersweet ending.
The third act, as I mentioned before, is about Coo, the old eight-year-old who is dying. Coo is a Dove, the leader of them all, and she is very old though she retains her youthful visage. Coo is instrumental to the lives of both Bray and Jinx, though they have very different relationships with her. Coo kind of personifies why I only gave this four stars–all the talk about God and sin and punishment and Heaven. I’m agnostic, I don’t plan on raising children in any faith, my boyfriend is agnostic too, so I just have a hard time in general internalizing lessons about God. I just couldn’t be sure, though, how much of the faith talk was satire and how much was genuine. I found Coo’s babbling about God kind of self-centered, as she believed she was shown things because God wanted her to see her curse. Maybe God has better things to do than kill people to make you feel bad, Coo. I feel this way about football players who thank God for their win. Excuse my rant, because Coo seems to understand that she doesn’t really get it either. But honestly, I skimmed parts of Coo’s section. She’s so pious and benign that she was tedious. I have problems with authority, and Coo’s story is all about following God’s rules. Boring. There were some interesting aspects, like Jay and the “evil” alchemists, but most of it really is Coo struggling to come to grips with her mortality. And her end is really great.
Which brings us to act four, the tale of Right and Left, twins who are not what they seem. They live in one of the Baron’s country manors, and Victor and Hind are sent to live there while the city is in unrest. Left is assigned to tend to Hind, and we learn a lot about both of their mindsets from this act. This one does a lot to make Hind more human, because to everyone else she seems like this ethereal, perfect little girl, or, as the summary states, she “doesn’t seem wild at all.” It was nice to see her as more than just the Baron’s pet, or the object of Jinx’s affections. It was also interesting to see Victor and Hind through the eyes of the twins, because it’s almost like we get four stories at once in this act. It was nice to see some more familiar characters and how their lives intertwined too. Don’t let the summary fool you though; this is a tragedy, and even those Wild Children who live well experience misery and grief.
And in the final act, we meet Elijah, who follows all the rules of the Church. This story is sad and made me cry the most, even thought the ending redeems it, so I don’t particularly want to detail it. Just know that this whole book is written beautifully and simply, though the plots are interconnected and complex, and all the different arcs call back to each other throughout the separate acts. This one is a bit of a horror, because the lives of Wild Children are horrible and horrifying, at least in the experience of Bray, Coo, Jinx, Hind, and Elijah. But don’t worry too much, because you’ll love the ending and, like me, end up loving the Wild Girl who doesn’t seem wild at all–Hind.