ISBN: 0439023564
ISBN 13: 9780439023566
By: Roddy Doyle

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About this book

One part family drama, one part action-adventure; this is the children's novel we've been waiting for from Booker Prize winner Roddy Doyle!A novel of mothers lost and found. Grainne's Mom disappeared years ago when her parents were divorced, and Mom moved to the U.S. Now, bafflingly, she's reappeared and wants to meet. What could she be up to?To get out of the way of this mysterious reunion, Grainne's half-brothers, Johnny and Tom, go with their mother, Sandra, on an "adventure holiday" in Finland. But before they're more than a few days into the snowy north, the boys are separated from Sandra, taking impossible risks to save her life. WILDERNESS is part-adventure, part-family drama with a charm that's all Roddy.

Reader's Thoughts


This was supposed to be a story of how families that have drifted apart can come back together, especially if propelled by tragic events, but I thought it was a little clumsy. The chapters flip back and forth between the two sets of children from one family; one line is about a rebellious teenage daughter who feels alienated from her fathers new family, and how she is reconnected with her real mother. The other story line is about how the step mom takes her two sons for an arctic dog sledding adventure. I really enjoyed the story about the daughter, I thought it was realistic how the daughter fought with the tension within herself as she comes to grips with her new family and her fledging relationship with her mother. I am not sure who this book is intended for as the two story lines, although connected by one family, reach for two different audiences.


This is a strange book. It has a good plot, but personally I think it could use a better variety of words.


Fun adventure story with lots of sled dogs and snow. The voice is a little choppy at times and the Irish slang gets in the way. The voices change between younger boys and older girl so this would have broad appeal

Karen Field

Wilderness is a book for younger readers. I usually enjoy such books, but something about this one just didn't do it for me. I didn't connect with the characters. I couldn't relate to them. It's a story of two boys who are taken on a wilderness holiday by their mother. She is keen to be away from home while her husband's first wife visits their daughter, who lives with her dad. I enjoyed the mother/daughter relationship -- the fear, anger and getting to know each other scenes. However, I didn't enjoy the wilderness side of the book. It bordered on boring. It didn't feel realistic. And the climax wasn't very suspenseful.It's a story that explores relationships within dysfunctional families, which is a situation I know well, but that's where my connection with this book ended.Having said this, it wasn't a terrible book, just not meaningful enough for my liking.


Johnny Griffin was nearly twelve and his brother, Tom, was ten. They lived in Dublin, with their parents and their sister. They were two ordinary boys. And they were being very ordinary the day their mother made the announcement.They were in the kitchen, doing their homework. It was raining outside, and the rain was hammering on the flat roof of the kitchen. So they didn’t hear their mother’s key in the front door and they didn’t hear her walking up the hall. Suddenly, she was there.I picked up Wilderness by Roddy Doyle at the library, in the Italian translation by Giuliana Zeuli. I had read somewhere it was a YA book, and I'm always curious about YA literature. However, the Italian translation is being marketed as a book for adults. I probably wouldn't have picked it up but for the sentence on the cover, "Roddy Doyle is a genius"-J.K.Rowling. If JKR likes this it can't be too bad, I thought.This is a novel about "mothers lost and found", says the book jacket. Grainne is an eighteen-year-old Irish girl with si much anger inside. Her mother abandoned when she was just a baby and when to live in New York. Her father has remarried with Sandra and had had other two boys, Johnny and Tom. The relationship between Sandra and Grainne is particularly strained.One day Grainne learns that her long-lost mother is coming back to Ireland to visit. The meeting, however, will go differently than how she expects. In the meantime, in order to give Grainne some space, Sandra and the boys leave for Finland to go on an "adventure holiday" in the snow. The boys are happy and excited. But when one evning their mother goes missing in the snow, they will have to take a brave, tough decision.The two stories - Grainne's, and Johnny and Tom's - are told in parallel, in alternating chapters with very non-committal titles, like "In the forest", "In the kitchen, "At the airport" etc. The narrating style is very simple and direct in the parts in Johnny and Tom's point of view while it is slightly more complicated and mature in the parts told from Grainne's perspective.I have to be honest: I'm not a fan of adventure tales. I was much more interested in Grainne's story than in the "adventure holiday". But this was a good book all the same.

Joan Fallon

I am a big Roddy Doyle fan and this delightful little book does not disappoint. He writes about children and childhood so vividly that the two brothers who are the little heroes of this story are totally believable. Set in Lapland it is the story of a fairytale holiday that goes very wrong.


Roddy Doyle is a brilliant author, and this book, written for a young audience, is proof of his brilliance. The relationships between each mother and the child/ren are powerful, and once again support the notion that the link between a mother and her child is unbreakable. Some of the scenes describing the adventure through the snow were a little tedious at times, but the underlying story is strong.

Jennifer Wardrip

Reviewed by Grandma Bev for TeensReadToo.comTen-year-old Tom Griffin and his older brother, twelve-year-old Johnny, live in Dublin, Ireland, with their parents and a teenaged half-sister, Grainne. Grainne has not seen or heard from her mother since she was a baby, and now her mother is coming from America for a visit. Grainne is nervous about the visit. Will seeing her mother heal the hurt of being abandoned by this woman? The boys' mother, Sandra, decides to take the boys somewhere else during the visit by Grainne's mother, and arranges a holiday in Finland for herself and the boys. They are going to have a grand adventure. This story is told in alternating chapters as Tom and Johnny become acquainted with sled dogs and their handler and then go off into the wilderness on an exciting dog sled ride to a remote lodge. And as Grainne nervously waits for the arrival of her birth mother. The boys are excited about the chance to help feed and water the sled dogs, and to help with camp chores. They are having a grand time, until their mother disappears. Her lead dog is a rogue who decides to go his own way, and she becomes lost in the cold, snowy uninhabited forest. It is dark, and the sled tips over and injures Sandra. She can't get back on the sled, or get the dogs under control. The boys decide to take a team of dogs and sled and search for their mother on their own, and they sneak out of the lodge and harness the dogs. It's dark and cold, with deep snow, and the trail is not clear, but their lead dog seems to know where he is going...or does he? Tween readers can relate to the realistic characters and their emotions as Roddy Doyle tells this dramatic story in sparse, simple language, while keeping the tension high. With the rowdy rambunctious boys and their adventure in Finland, the frantic search for their mother, and the angst of a teenaged girl meeting the mother who abandoned her, there is something for everyone in this exciting story.


Wilderness tells the intertwining stories of members of a blended family living in Dublin, and weaves together their experiences of growing-up. Doyle captures the voices of the characters perfectly, and brings the stories together with great skill, balancing the tension and emotions throughout.Brothers Tom and Johnny are taken on a wilderness holiday by their mother, to take part in a dog-sled expedition through Finnish Lapland. I've been there myself to do a dog-sled trip, and thought that the descriptions of the conditions and the experience particularly accurate. (I think I even had the same guide as the characters!) Following an accident, the boys must work together to overcome the fear of the unknown and save their mother.Meanwhile, their older half-sister Gráinne waits to be reunited with the mother that abandoned her as a child. Her story tells of her rage at being abandoned and fear of being hurt and rejected a second time, and gradually getting to know her mother again as a young adult.Younger readers will enjoy the excitement and action of the boys' story, and teens may relate to the tension of Gráinne's experience as she accepts a more adult relationship with her parents, but on the whole the two stories seem to be aimed at different audiences, and detract rather that complement each other. It also lacks much of the characteristic humour of Doyle's other work, which would have raised it another star.

Christine DeLange

Perhaps it's because I'm from an era when children still played outside and had adventures themselves, I don't take to this book. The reader has to wait until half way until disaster strikes. The author has mixed up two totally different reader groups. I was expecting an adventure where 2 boys were trying to find their mother in an foreign country in the snow.

Clare O'Beara

This is a fun, dramatic and informative story about two boys and their mother who go on a trip to Finland. The huskies who pull sleds are the big source of attraction for the lads. And they're going to be sledding across snowy wastes, frozen lakes and wooded wilderness all day... Yaay!Meanwhile back in Dublin, the boys have an older half-sister who waits with their dad, for her mother is coming back from America to see her for the first time in many years. The boys work with the dogs and take care of them, learning all they can. This stands them in good stead when their mother's sled vanishes on a trek and the boys look out at the night and snow, just knowing it is up to them to find her....I recommend this short book to anyone, boys, girls, adults. You should know however that huskies do not make good pets for urban families; they are a working, surviving type of breed, not a highly domesticated one.

Ian Wood

Roddy Doyle is one of my favourite authors, after being thrilled by the Barrytown Trilogy I’ve followed his writing through Paddy Clarke, Paula Spencer and the Last Roundup books. I thought writing a memoir of his parents was a little indulgent but I still enjoyed reading it. His Meanwhile Adventure kids book I thought a scream but even so ‘Wilderness’ didn’t make me rush to the library on it’s publication date. From the blurb I’d seen it would appear Roddy had written a book for teenagers with school reading list written all over it.My memories of school and the ‘approved’ list put me off reading for years. I used to sneak James Bond novels into school so I didn’t have to read the earnest rubbish with a transparent ‘do the right thing’ message the council had approved. Still as an ex-teacher and all round great writer maybe Roddy would write a book were the message wasn’t spelled out at every turn and the characters had enough human qualities to at least make it stand up.Well the warmth of a Roddy Doyle novel is present but the two parallel stories to drive home the message dilutes its own suitably earnest stand, but more worryingly there is absolutely no humour in this book at all. Since Roddy Doyle is one of the funniest writers to ever improve a sheet a plain paper by adding his wit to it this is the most perplexing thing I’ve ever come across. Since, I imagine, Roddy cannot help but be humorous and entertaining I can only imagine that this has been deliberately edited out under the misguided impression that school children don’t enjoy a good laugh. When I was at school we were constantly looking for a good laugh normally to the detriment of our studies. I can’t but help thinking an opportunity to mix the two has been squandered.If Roddy Doyle is on next terms reading list, take my advice, smuggle a book in, anything by Roddy Doyle except this one.


Read to see if it might be interesting for my students - but am not sure the flipping between families really worked. Characters were believable & likable but story just halfway interesting. Too many loose ends for my taste.

Matt Lydon

Not as good as some of his other books, but Wilderness is still good. The theme of mothers being lost and reuniting seems a bit forced, but this is Doyle, who somehow pulls out off.

Ciara *I love Harry Potter!*

3•5 starsRoddy Doyle writes generally humourous books, and this book was very different. The description on the blurb is correct; it is part family drama, part adventure.At best, this book was entertaining, at worst, dull. (e.g. the moments with Grainne and Rosemary...some of those were quite dull.) All in all, this book is enjoyable.

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