Note: This is a backlist review from my previous blog. To see more of my reading life, add me on Goodreads!
Wild follows high school graduate Zack, who’s training for a 100-mile marathon while caring for his 12-year-old sister and their mom as she deteriorates from her early-onset Alzheimers.
There are almost no white/straight/non-disabled characters in this book.
Zack, our main character, is a bisexual Filipino guy, and his girlfriend Jordan is a bisexual Jewish/Guatemalan Deaf girl. If that didn’t sell you, for some reason, Zack’s friend Chelsea is also Jewish, and Zack’s little sister Gin is a 12-year-old lesbian.
Something I really appreciated was how nobody questions anyone else’s sexuality—not even Gin, who’s super young, but just is gay. Nobody tells her that she can’t possibly know yet when she’s never had sex. Nobody tells Zack or Jordan that, since they’re now in a “straight” relationship, they’re no longer bisexual.
This book presents an honest representation of life after high school.
Zack and his two best friends are out of high school now, but none of them really follows the traditional path. Zack’s taking classes at community college so he can be around for his sick mom and little sister. His best friend Max is taking a gap year to “find himself”—and it’s not really going so well. Max’s girlfriend Chelsea is the only one attending a 4-year university, but she’s had to scrimp and save from her minimum-wage jobs just to afford to go.
All this was in the background, but I really appreciated the portrayal of the realities of being 18 or 19 and trying to figure your life out. Not everyone finishes high school and goes right on to a traditional college—and that’s okay.
Zack’s family situation is heartbreaking: his mom has early-onset Alzheimer’s, and he’s tasked with caring for her as well as his sister Gin. Although he could easily have become an unrealistic Hero Kid character, Zack really struggles with the situation he’s tasked with. He’s angry and bitter about having to care for his mom, who’s barely there at all and slowly digressing further as the book progresses. At one point, Zack goes on a rant at his mom about how unfair it is that he has to deal with her at all. He’s flawed—but it’s realistic. No 19-year-old should have to take care of his mom and sister, and Zack’s reactions are raw and true to life.
I really enjoyed the storyline that follows Zack as he trains for a 100-mile marathon in the wilderness of Tennessee mountains. In the beginning, it kind of seems like a quirky, unrealistic thing for him to do, but as we get to know him, it becomes clear that running is Zack’s way of trying to escape his circumstances. His now-absent father tried and failed to finish the marathon, so Zack’s hiding his running from his mom as well. It’s clearly his only time that he gets to be away from dealing with his home life. When he finally gets to the marathon, he starts to realize his own reasons for doing it, and ultimately he has to accept the ways he’s avoided responsibility in the past.
By far my favorite part of this book is the relationship between Zack and Jordan.
I loved that the book starts with an established romance: they’ve known each other for years and have a solid relationship, albeit one that depends on texting and chatting online. The romance plotline follows Zack as he learns that Jordan is Deaf, and as the two struggle to stay together despite the obstacles of distance (both physical and communication-wise).
There are several things to love about this. For one thing, this is a YA book that follows a relationship beyond the moment of them getting together, something that is so rare for some reason. It’s so enjoyable to see realistic struggles—because that’s how real relationships are.
On top of that, both characters are bisexual—which isn’t defined by the fact that they’re currently in a male-female relationship. Words cannot express how much I needed this story for that aspect alone. I’m bisexual and in a relationship with a guy, and my experiences are rarely accounted at all, much less still considered queer. I know I’m not the only one who needed this book.
The biggest obstacle for Zack and Jordan is one of communication. Zack takes it upon himself to learn ASL and it’s no easy task. Hearing readers get to learn about Deaf culture through Zack, from the way Deaf culture prizes blunt honesty, to the ways words and grammar change between English and ASL. I loved his little commentary about how translating his thoughts into ASL automatically makes the statements more up-front and honest—he can’t hide from Jordan when he’s talking with her.
I can’t speak for the accuracy of the Deaf rep, as I’m not Deaf, but anyone reading this book will notice that Hannah Moskowitz clearly put in the research for this story. Despite the fact that both characters recognize the near-impossibility of a Deaf/hearing relationship, they’re willing to make it work, which is such a positive thing to see. Zack and Jordan are there for each other in difficult times, even when they’re fighting. No matter how hard they have to work at being together, they know it’s worth it.
Wild was an easy 5-star for me because of the nuanced way it tackles multiple complex issues, to the way bisexuality is handled, to the Deaf representation. Despite the hard topics, it was ultimately an uplifting story about two people struggling to make their relationship work, no matter how much it takes. I highly recommend Wild to anyone who wants to see what a real loving relationship looks like beyond the initial stages.