Where the World Turns Wild is a powerful eco-fiction novel by Nicola Penfold. The story feels fresh despite its dystopian setting, and gives the reader crucial reasons to fight for the protection of the natural world. Please note the following review contains spoilers.
What is Where the World Turns Wild about?
“Once upon a time, almost fifty years ago, climate change and deforestation and humans ransacking everything good and beautiful, had driven our planet to breaking point. Nature was dying – plants and trees, animals, birds, insects – new species disappeared every day. But then the ReWilders created the disease. It was grown in a lab by their best scientists and let loose in a population of ticks – eight-legged little creatures that hide in the undergrowth.”
The protagonists are Juniper and her younger brother, Bear. They live in a city which has been closed off from the rest of the world. This is because a group of people known as the ReWilders released a disease carried by ticks, which wiped out the majority of humanity. Those who survived live in cities with buffer zones that are heavily doused in pesticides.
Juniper and Bear were born in the wild, but were brought to the city for protection and live with their grandmother Annie Rose. They carry an immunity to the tick disease and as such the city under the control of Portia Steel, wants their blood.
When Bear is caught at school and has blood drawn by the authorities, the children believe that they have no choice left but to escape. They intend to head back to Ennerdale where they were born (Juniper was named after Ennerdale, which is old norse for ‘Juniper Valley’).
But to get back to Ennerdale, they must first survive in the wild – which thanks to the ReWilders is now home to animals such as wolves and lynx. They must also survive against those who pursue them.
Where the World Turns Wild and eco-fiction
“The long list of ecological disasters. The burning of fossil fuels. Greenhouse gases. Deforestation. The oceans filled with plastic. Overfishing. Toxic waste. Pesticides. Overflowing landfill. Rivers of oil and chemicals. Fracking. Etc., etc., on and on, ad infinitum. And the one common factor in all those things. The one undeniable culprit. Us. Someone had to stop people from ruining everything.”
The climate and ecological crises form the basis for the plot in this eco-fiction novel. The quote above outlines exactly what humanity is doing to the world, which has led to the world surpassing six out of nine planetary tipping points. Rewilding is a crucial solution that needs to be implemented on a global scale, and this is one of the few eco-fiction novels I’ve read that addresses the topic head-on. The story shows that rewilding has worked, as the forest is full of animals that have long been extinct on these shores.
Pesticide pollution is explored through the buffer zone, which is sprayed with herbicides and insecticides to keep the ticks out. There’s even a “Glyphosate Patrol”, who extinguish all signs of natural life in the city. This means that there’s no grass or trees in the city. Even the rivers are diverted underground for fear that they may bring ticks in.
But extinguishing the natural world brings its own set of issues. The soil in the city has been overused and lacks nutrients. This is one of the reasons why Steel wants the children’s blood – so that they can inject it into volunteers which will give them immunity and enable them to venture outside the city to bring back food.
Bear also reads a lot of nature books and knows a great deal about the trees, birds and insects that exist in the wild. We learn to appreciate nature through him. The character’s names themselves are grounded in nature. Juniper, Bear, Annie Rose , Silvan (“It means of the forest”), and even the village of Ennerdale (Juniper Valley) contain much symbolism, which is even more powerful in the degraded world of the novel.
“We had our chance. We pretty much killed everything. We were killing ourselves too.”
Where the World Turns Wild is a standout novel that makes the reader appreciate nature. It serves as an urgent call-to-action to stop destroying the world in the myriad of ways that we’re hellbent on doing.
The characters make the book so special, especially Bear who has so much on his shoulders.
“But you’re so strong, Bear.”
“My strong got used up, Ju. The rain washed it away.”
The addition of Ghost as a protector, was such a wonderful touch as we urged the pair to survive in the harsh wilderness.
This was an incredible debut novel and I highly recommend it for enabling young readers to see what happens if we continue going down this path. This is a timely wake-up call to come to terms with the mess we’ve created, but also an emotional appeal to tackle the most pressing challenges facing the world today.
My new cli-fi children’s picture book, Nanook and the Melting Arctic is available from Amazon’s global stores including Amazon UK and Amazon US. My eco-fiction children’s picture book, Hedgey-A and the Honey Bees about how pesticides affect bees, is available on Amazon’s global stores including Amazon UK and Amazon US.