Seven Impossible Tri-Reviews Before Breakfast #5: Featuring TadMack, Julie Marchen, and The Wild

h1 July 16th, 2008 by Eisha and Jules

Hey, folks. We’ve got a super-spectacular treat (for us) today. We have the extreme pleasure of tri-reviewing with the vivacious TadMack (a.k.a. author Tanita S. Davis) of… well, of lots of blogs, but we’re maybe most fond of Finding Wonderland, one of the other awesome two-girl book blogs we keep tabs on.

The book we’re talking about is Out of the Wild, Sarah Beth Durst’s follow-up to last year’s fun middle-grade modern fantasy, Into the Wild.

If you’ve read Into the Wild, you’ll remember that 12-year-old Julie Marchen, daughter of Rapunzel, lives with a bunch of escaped fairy tale characters and has to help keep guard over The Wild, the enchanted forest that is the source of all our favorite stories. It gets loose anyway, and she barely manages to rein it back in and save the citizens of her town from becoming characters themselves, having to re-enact the fairy tales over and over for eternity. But to do so, she had to leave her mother’s Prince – the father she’s never known – still trapped in his story.

In Out of the Wild, he is, without apparent explanation, freed by The Wild and deposited into Julie’s bedroom. While Rapunzel and the other escaped characters have had 500 years or so to acclimate to the real world and learn to blend in, Prince is still every inch the fairy tale hero. So when some weird stuff starts to go down, involving a kidnapped princess and a rogue fairy turning people into pumpkins, he jumps into action to save the day. But here’s the thing: every time one of the reformed characters does something fairy-tale-ish in this world, they make The Wild grow. So Julie takes off after Prince to try to control the damage his heroics are doing to their ability to keep it contained. Before too long it becomes clear that someone must have set these events in motion in a deliberate attempt to free The Wild, and Julie & Co. have to use every trick at their disposal to figure out how to stop it from taking over the world.

It is, pardon the pun, a wild ride, with lots of action and tons of fun fairy tale references. We’re so glad TadMack was willing to join the convo.

Two quick notes: We read ARCs of this title, so quoted excerpts are subject to change. Also, some plot spoilers are included below. Consider yourself warned.

Jules: So, TadMack, what did you think? Since you’re our esteemed guest, I thought I’d let you start. I suppose it would be unfair of me, though, to fail to give you something to respond to.

I’ll just say for now (I don’t want to run my mouth too much before our visitor’s had a chance to give her thoughts) that I think Durst’s imagination has no restraints. I enjoyed the hell out of Into the Wild and found it original and clever. And what a great pair of books these are for intermediate-aged readers looking for some action and adventure, particularly girls. But I remember when we tri-reviewed Perry Moore’s Hero with Roger Sutton and he said that he wanted more plot and less action from Moore. That came to my mind as I read this sequel. Not so much that there was a plot problem. Not at all. But that the action was nearly non-stop, and something about it all would occasionally wear me out, and I’d have to put the book down a while, one reason it took me so long to read it.

Does that make any sense? There’s a lot to like here, but that kept distracting me. Anyone else know what I mean, or is it just me?

TadMack: It’s just you, dude. Sorry.

Okay, kidding, but I do warn you not to worry about running your mouth too much, because I have a lot to say on this one! I really think the pair of these books are a hoot, and this one especially was a wild ride!

I somewhat agree with you about the ramped up action. The Wild is… not surprisingly, wild, thus the story pace is necessarily quick – really quick. Right from the beginning, there were times I wished the pace could have been a little slowed — the first time Zel encounters her Prince, for instance I felt that Julie was able to let go of that moment of seeing her father again and walk away from her parents pretty easily – no overwhelming feelings of being left out – but some. The first time her father leaves her, I expect Julie to be devastated – but it makes perfect sense for her to continue to trust him, since it’s only the first time. After the second and third times, however, I don’t quite know what she doesn’t just hate him.

I also think someone needed to SMACK that librarian, too!

One of the overarching story themes is mentioned early on – when Julie sees Gina the ex-Giantess and Jack together and Sleeping Beauty’s fairy and the Prince. She says, “…but Julie couldn’t help wondering, did Gina ever miss her giant height? Did the fairy ever miss her wings? They’d given up a lot for their happily-ever-afters.” (p.70) That’s a major statement, isn’t it?

eisha: Yeah, it totally is. In our world, the characters finally have control over their own destinies, but they do pay a heavy price. They’re basically living like they’re in the witness protection program, and they have to hide anything that doesn’t fit with their current surroundings; like, the fact that Gina and Jack live with a talking cow in New York City, for example. And it’s interesting how the Prince’s arrival – and subsequent disgust at how unheroic everyone has become – throws that into focus. Even more interesting to me was the castle in the clouds, where the escaped characters that simply couldn’t blend in with humans (like Beauty’s Beast) had to live. For most of the characters, though, obtaining free will was well worth whatever conditions they had to endure after escaping The Wild, and they fought like anything to keep it from retaking them. Which is, as you pointed out, a major statement.

Like both of you, I felt like the pacing was a bit frantic. But I really liked Durst’s attention to detail. Some of the little fairy-tale touches that she worked in were brilliant; like the way the thorny brambles would grow up around Sleeping Beauty/Rose anywhere she went. And I loved the encounter with the Wolf – that was seriously scary, and totally nasty. And the fact that she managed to work in Graceland made me ridiculously happy: the “castle” of a fallen “King,” the site of a true-life fairy tale that went horribly wrong. Fabulous.

I'm goin' to Graceland in Memphis, Tennessee...

So, Jules, you said there was a lot to like here. What were some of your favorite bits?

Jules: Yes, the Graceland chapter was seven kinds of awesome. It was clever, and—as Southern gals raised in Tennessee—Eisha and I were probably extra-thrilled.

Eisha, to address your question, here are my favorite elements of Durst’s writing:

  • The humor. In the very first chapter, when Julie sees three blind mice, two cats chasing them, Gillian, and then “a nine-foot grizzly bear executing a perfect pirouette in the middle of the living room rug,” I laughed out loud. “Just your typical Saturday morning,” Julie thinks. And pretty much any exchange between Puss and Julie is funny.
  • The action and adventure. Though I wanted the pace to slow down a bit sometimes, as I’ve said, there were a whole slew of unforgettable moments, such as when Julie goes zooming off on a broomstick with her dad into the heart of New York, all flying around Times Square. And when Julie, at the end of chapter ten, turns and sees the dragon, “its wings spread radiantly against the dying sun,” rising out of the Grand Canyon, my breath was rather taken away.
  • And, yes, Eisha: All the details are wonderful. It’s clear, as with the first book, that Durst really does her fairy tale research. And I still think it’s notable how she pulls off the concept to begin with, that these books manage to smack of The Original, even though everyone is adapting fairy tales in all kinds of ways in contemporary children’s lit. That’s what blew me away about the first book: The very premise. And the fact that Durst is a clever, smart writer doesn’t hurt either.

And leave it to me, of course, to point out other reviews, since I’m a Review Nerd. But Kirkus’ review of this title also nails what I think is the primary strength of both books: Character. Julie, in particular. About this sequel they wrote, “Julie becomes a hero by making smart choices, developing courage and hanging on to her moral compass.” Word. She’s the heart of it all.

Here’s one thing that surprised me: The blurb/short summary on the back of the book made me think that the book would spend a bit more time chronicling the blunders and missteps of her father, a five-hundred-year-old prince in 21st century America. It’s not that I thought Durst would get all Three’s Company on us about it, but I got the sense there would be more of that – such as, her father adjusting to, say, modern technology. This is not a complaint; it was merely a surprise. Durst took me in places I didn’t expect to go.

TadMack, were there any big surprises for you as a reader?

TadMack: Not really huge surprises. We knew Julie and her sort of nervy, terrified-but-brave, take-on-the-world ways from the first book. I have to say that I didn’t expect anything to really happen to her, though – not really. The wolf was a nasty surprise. The word ‘clots’ was used. Clots. People, I was traumatized.

There are some tough things to swallow in this book about the nature of love and relationships. Julie decides (p.205) that Linda the Librarian has gone too far for love, but that maybe her Mom hasn’t gone far enough. Julie determines that it is her job to reunite her parents, because her mother won’t do it. I really felt for Julie then, and for every kid who has dearly wanted her parents to get back together and get along. So, Julie does what she does, and The Wild grows.

Maybe it was going to grow anyway?

As readers, we aren’t ever sure Julie has done the ‘right’ thing. In the story, like in life, at times, there is no ‘right’ thing to do. There were just things… pieces of the story… and for every action, a reaction from The Wild. That was a lot like real life.

I guess I also was somewhat surprised by The Prince. I kept thinking that Julie’s father would… come around? Be more… uh, flexible? Instead, he kind of justifies his Handsome Prince behavior:

“If you had to do it over again, would you do today differently? Would you listen to Mom and Grandma and let them teach you how to fit into the world before plunging into it?”

He thought for a moment. “No,” he said finally. “I am who I am.” (p.119)

That really gave me pause. One of the drawbacks of fairytales as modernized into the Victorian Age is that they forced the heroes and heroines into the incredibly brittle, complicated social conventions of the time, and in doing so, lost something the stories had from being mere folk tales that reflected the social mores of the time and place from which they came. That’s a lot of what we see when we read fairytales, and I think these days, the fairytale is created in the image of … well, Disney. The Handsome Prince isn’t just a title, it’s a worldview. He is The Prince, ergo, there are Princely things that He Must Do. He’s always going to dive in first, ask questions later. He’s always going to try to be a hero. Always.

It then brings me to this: are people outside of stories that stuck in their roles? I love that the author puts that kind of question to readers obliquely, and it’s just sort of there, as something else to consider.

I know this isn’t a YA novel – it’s more MG, yes? But I still have trouble with the idea of someone like The Prince managing a modern relationship with Zel. How do you create a relationship with someone who needs to be a Hero? What about Zel’s ideas of ‘harmony, peace and kindness?’ Will that even work inside the ‘Fairytale Capitol of the World?’ It was pretty convenient that there was a ‘Pouf!’ and all the problems were ironed out when Julie went back to the well. This is kind of a fairytale within a fairytale, yet I still feel like a few strings were left untied. What about you? Do you feel there were enough strings for another sequel, or did the story wrap up nicely for you?

eisha: Hmm. That’s a lot to consider, TadMack. Lemme see…

What Julie Did and Was It Right? Well, I’m not sure what else Julie could have done. She’d already demonstrated that she’s an action kind of girl – or as her dad says, a hero – and I just don’t see her sitting there in that situation and not doing anything about it. Plus, as she points out, the Wild is already out of control by then, so one more fairy tale ending is just a drop in the bucket, really.

And frankly, I kind of wanted something to bring her parents together, too. Their relationship up to that point had been jarring for me: after 500 years of separation, he shows up, and after a few awkward conversations he immediately takes off on a quest. It frustrated the hell out of me, so I thought Julie’s criticism of her mother made sense.

Are People Outside of Stories That Stuck in Their Roles? Dang, TM, that’s heavy. But think: Durst has given us a few examples of characters who couldn’t or didn’t want to adapt to their new surroundings (Linda and Bobbi), but many more characters who did adapt, and created new “happily-ever-afters” for themselves outside the Wild (Jack, Gina, Other Prince, Other Fairy, Gothel, and of course Zel). But it took a long time, and wasn’t easy, as Gina alludes (p. 75). One gets the feeling that they’re still themselves (Julie observes that fairies are always “perky,” for example) – but like anyone, whether in stories or in real life, they’ve grown and changed with time and experience. Prince hasn’t had a chance yet. His declaration makes it clear that he’ll always be a hero, but maybe in a few hundred years he’ll be able to be more subtle and less anachronistic about it.

Will There Be a Sequel? It’s possible – I’m not sure I completely trust the Wild, even with Julie’s tidy solution. Plus, there are the questions about Zel and Prince’s relationship you raised – that could get rocky. And Julie’s got a bit of a love-interest thingy happening at the end, too. I think it’s enough of a happy ending to leave me satisfied, but I think there’s enough potential conflict remaining to warrant a sequel if Durst decides to take it on.

How about you, Jules? Care to comment on any/all of the above?

Jules: Has Durst made any public proclamations about a sequel? She blogs. Maybe she has. I wouldn’t be surprised, and if it were a trilogy, that’d be good with me. I think there are enough loose strings left that can be tied in another tale of the Wild.

I don’t think I have anything profound to add. (Wait, do I ever say anything profound anyway?) I think Durst does a good job of showing that everyone has their different happy endings (I have to break into some Lyle Lovett lyrics here with “I just keep on running faster/Chasing the happily I am ever after” – that would be our Prince), but—again—if some of the conflict were resolved and Julie’s fledgling love interest were explored in a third book, I’d read it.

Anybody want to address anything new/else? This has been fun!

TadMack: All right, here’s the thing: I am KNOWN far and wide (okay, as wide as my computer screen, anyway) as just hating it when YA movies are made into film, but… Sometimes, middle grade fantasy… well, sometimes it really translates well into film. Whew. I said it. Maybe it works best when you have middle grade action/adventure/fantasy? Anyway — novels where imagination is something that can be really wide-ranging and rip-roaring can be turned into some pretty good films, and THIS particular fantasy would be so much fun to see. My favorite scene (with limited description to avoid spoilers) would have to be:

  • Magic carpet
  • Beanstalk
  • Pumpkin.

In no particular order.

You guys?

eisha: Actually, I agree. These books would make fun movies. The emphasis on plot and quick pace would actually work in their favor on the big screen. I think the scenes I’d most like to see would be:

  • Castle in the clouds
  • Wolf
  • Graceland engulfed in thorns.

Jules: Ooh, fun question.

  • The dragon rising out of the Grand Canyon
  • Graceland
  • Beanstalk or Wolf (it’s a tie).

Thanks for book-chattin’ with us, TadMack. Remind us to do it again some time! We hope you enjoyed it, too.

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13 comments to “Seven Impossible Tri-Reviews Before Breakfast #5: Featuring TadMack, Julie Marchen, and The Wild”

  1. This is a WAYYY cool review, but I’ll have to come back–I’m only on chapter 4!


  2. Ooh, I love the Prince pictures. They’re actually a little scary. Are ALL princes brunette? Is that, like, somewhere in the contract?

    Wait — in the original Cinderella they were both blonde. I guess that’s the only time I’ve ever seen a prince who wasn’t tall… dark… and handsome. Beast included.

    Hmmm!
    Thanks for inviting me along to play, grrrlz!


  3. I wasn’t sure what you’d think of that image, TadMack. But I threw it in anyway.

    So, I wonder why the Cinderella prince is a brunette in this pic? Weird. I didn’t notice that.


  4. Love the review, guys, and I’m looking forward to the Durst movies!


  5. I can’t read this post because I haven’t read the book yet (I own + read + enjoyed the first, and I await the second to be available at the library) but I DID catch your bit about the princes as I scrolled down to the comments section, and I thought of the two Princes in INTO THE WOODS…


  6. Oh, this was so much fun to read. Kudos to the three of you!!


  7. Great tri-review! I loved the book, but you guys really thought everything through and brought up some great points. I agree that it would translate well to film.


  8. loved this review, will have to put both books on my to-read list. two things:

    first, i’m a consistent but not-every-day reader (and oh-so-rare commentator), so i just read your entry about re-focusing the blog. congratulations on recognizing when something was out of whack and fixing it. i’ve always been amazed by the amount of content here, and may actually be able to spend more time with it now:)

    second, have any of you read the Fables comics? It sounds like there are some strong parallels to the Into the Wild stories, though of course the comics are firmly aimed at adults.


  9. Thanks, everyone, for chiming in.

    Lauren, it’s funny you should ask, but when I was describing these books to a couple of friends the other day, they said the same thing. So I’ll be looking for those soon. The Sisters Grimm series by Michael Buckley has a bit in common with these books, too, if anyone’s looking for read-alikes.


  10. Still have to get to these Wild stories. Much to appreciate and think about here in the meantime!


  11. I had to close my eyes and scroll down your post really fast, so I wouldn’t see any spoilers. The fact you’re doing a tri-review is prompting me to get these books off my TBR pile and read them! Thanks.


  12. I was out of town when you posted this and missed it when I did the old “mark all read” trick to googlereader on my return. (Note to self: never mark 7-imp “all read”!) This is such a great tri-review–I really loved the books and I think you really got at them here. There’s something nagging at the back of my mind, though, about the resolution. Do the books suggest that fairy tales are/should be just museum pieces, to be visited for entertainment only? I mean, I get that living a role is stagnating and even dangerous (which is why I, too, worry about the Prince!), but IF new stories can be generated out of the Wild–as these are!–why must it be relegated to a theme park? I don’t know; I’m just blathering now. Must go re-read.


  13. [...] Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast reviews Out of the Wild by Sarah Beth Durst. “All the details are wonderful. It’s clear, as with the first book, [...]


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