Wild Bird, by Wendelin Van Draanen, tells the story of Wren, a 14-year old from a good family who is addicted to alcohol and marijuana and runs drugs for a 12th-grader she wants to be her boyfriend. Her parents, fed up and finding Wren to be intransigent, send her away to a wilderness survival camp in the desert of southern Utah.
The camp is eight weeks long, and she’s determined not to let go of any bit of the anger she feels while she’s there. But soon, despite herself, the new skills she’s learning and the unforgiving natural landscape are working a change in her, along with a friend she makes–Hannah, a high school heroin addict who is grateful for the second chance at a sober life the camp is providing.
Eventually, Wren reaches a point where she can almost admit some of the things she did that were wrong–things she did to hurt her family, her community, her own future. But she doesn’t feel like she can confront them without the numbing aid of alcohol or other drugs. It’s then that the counselors decides she needs to go a quest in the wilderness, alone. And what she discovers on that quest will change who she is and how she understands and approaches the world.
Wild Bird is a great book, but it may be pretty intense for some readers. I think it’d be great for readers in their mid-teens, or for mature readers in their early teens. But for those who are ready for it, it’s really beautifully written and perfectly paced. I suppose you could say it’s a “message book” but it doesn’t feel preachy–it’s actually quite a page-turner, helped along by Wren’s funny and decidedly irreverent narrative voice.