Beware the Wild
By Natalie C. Parker
Expected publication October 21, 2014 by HarperTeen
Sterling and her brother had a pretty epic argument and he ran into the swamp. But she never expected him to disappear - and a girl claiming to be her sister to take his place. It isn't long before she realizes that no one remembers him - except, perhaps, slightly strange Heath. Can Sterling figure out what's happened and find a way to bring her brother back?
Well, I've said before I'm a sucker for a teen novel, particularly a fantasy, so that's probably how I ended up with this one in my reading queue. The summary had a slightly gothic sound to it, so I was definitely game to give it a shot.
Maybe I'm also a sucker for books set in the swampy south, but this definitely had atmosphere going for it. It was not at all difficult to picture Sticks, LA and the somewhat sinister swampland that surrounds it. Is it just that our culture has created a mythology around the South and its land that it has become the easiest atmosphere to evoke? Maybe, but either way, it works for Parker here. I loved the descriptions of the swamp and the crumbling Lillard House.
I liked that the main thrust of this story is a twist on a changeling tale - Sterling's brother goes into the swamp and Lenora May comes out. In this case, though, all memories of Phineas have been erased as well, replaced with memories of a life with Lenora May. Sterling is protected because of a charm she wears, but I liked Parker's descriptions of the two sets of memories existing next to each other in Sterling's mind. I liked the relationship that evolved with Heath, who also lost someone he cared about to the swamp and is the only one who can remember. I appreciated that they had a history as well, instead of just two strangers thrown together by circumstance who somehow find time to fall in love while also fixing what the magic has set awry.
Okay, the following may be a bit spoilery, so consider yourself warned and stop reading if you don't want to know. For a good long while, I wondered if this was going to end up being another supernatural book that wasn't really about the supernatural - it was instead a manifestation of some illness or disorder. See, Sterling has developed a bit of an eating disorder because of the stress of her brother's plans for the future. So I spent a good chunk of the book wondering if this was all going to somehow end up being a product of Sterling's starving mind. I'm not sure if I would have liked the book more or less had this been the case, but it would have been an interesting dynamic if Parker had chosen that route. Regardless, I thought Sterling's eating disorder played an interesting role in the story and I liked that it clearly wasn't about any desire to be skinny - it was about the lack of control she felt in the rest of her life.
More potential spoilery stuff so keep looking away if you'd like! I was a little sad when it became clear early on that the real villain was exceptionally obvious. I would have liked it a bit better if it hadn't been clear that the person Sterling initially suspected was just another victim of the real baddie.
In the end, I liked this book well enough, despite its lack of surprises. It was atmospheric with interesting enough characters to keep me reading and see how it all would work out. Thanks to the publisher for a digital advance reader's copy, provided via Edelweiss.