The Secret Wild is a green explosion of botanical whimsy and it was such a lovely read!
I have such a soft spot for books about wild, sentient plants and vines taking over the world and this just fulfilled every need. 🍃 Fern is a curious, smart, and fearless main character and so loveable. Plus she befriends a hybrid plant that gave me total Groot vibes and together they discover a plot from an eco-terrorist who is trying to make jungles take over London and destroy everything. The book had really themes about nature vs people and how we don’t need violently extreme measures to make a difference to the planet. And the whole story is just infused with love for plants and exploring and nature that it will bring smiles to old and young readers alike.
Fern is around ten-years-old so this is also the perfect read for the younger end of middle-grade. It’s not too action packed and while the stakes are high, it’s not a super stressful read. It’s also packed full of relatable themes: like how hard it is to make friends (especially if you’re out of practise) and how to be true to yourself but also make compromises.
The book kicks off with Fern living with her botanist parents who travel the world hunting for plants to study. But while Fern is a thoughtful and clever little girl, her curiosity is utterly wild, and she can’t control her impulses to explore — which gets her in dangerous situations. Her dad is dismissive of her not knowing enough Latin and her mother pretty much says nothing (lol) so Fern is sent to live with her uncle in London. Uncle Ned was lovely and quite funny, always preoccupied by his writing and chatting about his characters as if they’re real (relatable 😂) but he is also kind of neglectful of Fern. She ends up basically exploring London on her own. Though on the plane trip over she steals a little super-hybrid plant from a travelling botanist: and it turns out she can speak to the plant and it understands her. She names the plant Special. It’s definitely a stand-in for all the neglectful adults in Fern’s life. My heart ached for her. (Though I have to be honest…it’s my least favourite trope when parents are super absent/neglectful by choice and yet never apologise. I would’ve liked some consequences for the parents at the end.)
Fern meets Woody while in London, and I loved how they were such opposites. Fern hates wearing shoes and is obsessed with plants and wants to explore and climb things. Woody likes only puzzles, hates the outdoors, and pretty much is horrified by Fern’s messiness. (Woody did seem coded as autistic but the label isn’t mentioned.) Their friendship is slow to build but lovely.
There’s a bit of mystery solving, as Fern tries to keep Special fed and well, plus find out who the Guerrilla Gardener is. And there’s plenty of empowerment for STEM girls and curious girls and wild girls.
A tale of lonely kids finding solace in friendship and nature; and a total love letter to botany. It’s just this little girl and her little groot-like buddy against an overgrown London and some possibly man-eating plants.
Thanks to Walker Books for the review copy!
Title: The Secret Wild
Author: Alex Evelyn
Date Published: 1st December 2022
Genre: Middle Grade Fantasy
Publisher: Walker Books
Purchase: Book Depository, Dymocks
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A fantastical, botanical adventure about friendship, bravery – and finding home in a new place.
Fern has spent her whole life in the rainforest, and loves nothing more than climbing, exploring and talking to the trees. When she suddenly has to leave all that behind and move to London, with only an eccentric uncle for company, Fern feels entirely uprooted.
But when she meets a little plant that can understand her every word, it seems that things are looking up! That is until strange things start happening in the city: giant lily pads on the Thames, monkey vines on the London Eye, and now her new friend is starting to wilt…
Can they solve this growing mystery together – before it’s too late?