I really am not sure what to say about Natalie C. Parker’s debut Beware the Wild. It’s a book about a town in the swampy bayous of Louisiana where a fence stands between the town of Sticks and its most dreaded enemy, the creepy swamp. One day, our heroine Sterling’s brother disappears into the swamp after a fight, and is soon replaced with a girl named Lenora May who takes his place as the sister she never had, and nobody – besides Sterling – is ever the wiser.
At the heart of Beware the Wild isn’t so much the paranormal element, I think, but more about relationships and memories, and what happens when you know something with your heart but suffer the knowledge that everyone else thinks you’re completely insane in thinking it. This is the best part of the novel, watching Sterling deal with her complicated life and act like a trouper through it. Sterling probably was herself one of the better parts of the novel. She was strong, determined, and unwavering in her devotion to her lost brother, going to the point of risking her life to save him. She was determined to be proven right, and I like that in a girl.
For a good portion of the book, though, I was either confused or just completely did not care. By the end I don’t know if I just didn’t connect or if the book just wasn’t for me from the get go. I enjoyed the setting. I enjoyed the mood. I enjoyed Sterling, minus her love interest. I enjoyed her friends for the most part. I just don’t think that Parker did enough in her debut to connect the reader to all the characters, and to set it up so the flow was engrossing and easy to follow.
Parker’s debut does have a lot going for it. The prose is nice and crisp, the descriptions vivid enough without being the entire story, and the characters for the most part nice and well-rounded (with an exception I will get to in a minute). There were just times where I found it confusing or boring, where it wandered down paths, or where the characters just didn’t act like reasonable humans. These were the parts that threw me for a loop and left this book at a 3 star rating.
But this all brings me to one selling point of the novel that I just didn’t find was true at all.
“This debut novel is full of atmosphere, twists and turns, and a swoon-worthy romance.”
Let’s talk about that romance. Our love interest is Heath, a boy that Sterling apparently was very into a few years back before he became reclusive, drug-addled, and completely off her radar, until he pops back into her life as she tries to figure out what happened to her brother. Except there is a problem with Heath – he’s boring and there is absolutely no chemistry between him and Sterling. This romance is totally less than swoonworthy. Their return to a relationship after years of not even talking was less than realistic, and he annoyed me to death half the time. Heath felt tacked on for solely the sake of having a romance.
Overall, Beware the Wild wasn’t entirely for me, but it was far from having no merits. It was a beautiful story with a distinct hook, but in a market filled with books that are packed with everything – great plot, great characters, great writing, and even a great romance – I’m not sure if “Beware the Wild” is something I would ever pick up off a shelf. But am I okay with the fact I read it? Yes. It was a pretty good read.