Published by Little Brown (5.7.2019)
Genres: Contemporary, Young Adult
Format: Hardcover, 328 pages
Kira Bennett’s earliest memories are of living alone and wild in the woods. She has no idea how long she was on her own or what she had to do to survive, but she remembers the moment that Cady Bennett and one of her search-and-rescue dogs found her perfectly. Adopted into the Bennett family, Kira still struggles with human interaction years later, but she excels at the family business: search-and-rescue. Along with Cady’s son, Jude, and their neighbor, Free, Kira works alongside Cady to train the world’s most elite search-and-rescue dogs. Someday, all three teenagers hope to put their skills to use, finding the lost and bringing them home.
But when Cady’s estranged father, the enigmatic Bales Bennett, tracks his daughter down and asks for her help in locating a missing child—one of several visitors who has disappeared in the Sierra Glades National Park in the past twelve months—the teens find themselves on the frontlines sooner than they could have ever expected. As the search through 750,000 acres of unbridled wilderness intensifies, Kira becomes obsessed with finding the missing child. She knows all too well what it’s like to be lost in the wilderness, fighting for survival, alone.
But this case isn’t simple. There is more afoot than a single, missing girl, and Kira’s memories threaten to overwhelm her at every turn. As the danger mounts and long-held family secrets come to light, Kira is forced to question everything she thought she knew about her adopted family, her true nature, and her past.
This book is a bit hard for me to review, because I had some pretty mixed feelings about it. First of all, I absolutely LOVED the dogs and the search and rescue aspect, that was definitely the selling point! I love animals in stories, and the dogs were a forefront in this one. I also really loved the wilderness setting – it actually reminded me hardcore of Homeward Bound! But, if you remove those two elements that I was quite fond of from this story, it doesn’t leave much worth remembering for me.
I honestly don’t think I really cared for the main character, Kira. Cady (her adoptive mother) found her as a child, lost and abandoned in the forest, half feral. Despite it having been YEARS since then – she’s a teenager now, so probably 10ish years? – she’s still feral and lacks even basic social skills. She frequently thinks and reacts like a dog would, in simple words, base feelings, and animalistic instinct instead of coherent thoughts: Threat. Hurts. Trapped. Thirsty. She constantly sees threats in literally everything – deeply untrusting of literally every single person she meets, doesn’t like and is extremely wary of confined spaces. I realize she has very severe PTSD (which was done fairly well, as certain things trigger it), but it was almost TOO much? It’s been 10 freakin’ years, and it’s even mentioned that she’s been through therapy (which clearly did not work AT ALL). After that much time, especially time spent with a loving family, you would think that she’d be at least a little bit socialized. But she was still SO FERAL to the point that she wanted to lunge at people’s throats who threatened her or her family even the least bit and it was constantly fight or flight with her (typically straight to fight, she was severely aggressive). She was animalistic to the point of over-exaggeration, no joke; she actually bared her teeth, growled, and snapped at people multiple times in the book.
The other characters were okay. Mostly I only liked Free (Phoebe is her real name, thank goodness). She was pretty badass and was a great friend to Kira. Cady was a great mom, but that was the extent of her personality: A mom. Fiercely protective, motherly, nurturing, just overall generally being a mom describes her entire personality. I didn’t really care about Gabriel, he was just there. Although I do want to give kudos to Barnes for there being almost no romance! There might have been a small hint of something between Kira and Gabriel, but it never evolved past friendship. (Which is a win for me!) However, I did not care for Jude. Which is odd, because he was overly nice and funny and should have been the most likable character. But his personality seemed forced to me – he was constantly happy and joking (even when the situation did not call for it), but the way he talked just seemed a little over the top and dramatic all. the. time, and mostly I just found him annoying.
The dogs were definitely my favorite part! I loved NATO, Duchess, and Silver a lot, and they each had their own little personalities, which I found endearing! View Spoiler »Oh and I CRIED when Silver died! Poor Silver! « Hide Spoiler I loved Saskia, too, and enjoyed Kira’s relationship with her. Saskia, like Kira, is partially feral and doesn’t trust easily. She also comes from an abusive and traumatized background, so they found common ground in their survival. It was beautiful! However, I find it a bit farfetched for a dog with a history of aggression to be in a SAR (search & rescue) position. I don’t know anything about SAR, but as someone with an extensive background working with dogs (kennel, veterinary, grooming), service and working dogs would have to have a certain disposition. Especially to be certified. If the animal can’t be trusted to not snap when someone approaches/reaches for them, how would they be able to work in a field where a child could potentially be put at risk being around them? Didn’t make sense to me.
I liked the mystery of the story! I’ve been super interested in murder mysteries lately, so this one came along at the perfect time. It kept me on my toes, and I most certainly didn’t expect the direction that it took and who was behind the disappearance of the little girl. However, I felt a bit underwhelmed at the big reveal – it was unexpected, and I like being surprised, but it didn’t have the feeling of pieces fitting into place or that feeling of satisfaction that I was expecting. View Spoiler »I thought it was a bit odd and out of character for Ness to just turn like that, especially on her own family. There didn’t seem to be any signs of dementia or other mental issues leading up to the events at the end, but clearly the woman needs some mental help. Also, how in the ever loving fuck would a small older woman manage to drag an unconscious teenage boy through the forest?? Okay then… « Hide Spoiler
I realize that I have potentially more complaints about this book than nice things to say, but it’s not that I didn’t enjoy it. It’s a SUPER fast and easy read! The pacing is quick, and the mystery aspect creates enough tension and intrigue to keep you turning pages. I enjoyed it while reading, but it’s not necessarily something that will stick with me long-term (except maybe the dogs).
Writing style: 2.5/5
Overall rating: 3/5