Where the World Turns Wild was selected for the 2018 Undiscovered Voices anthology and shortlisted for the Joan Aiken Future Classics prize in 2017. It is a prescient and convincing story of a world entirely cut off from the beauties of Nature it has done its best to annihilate. ReWilders, intent on preserving what remained, developed a virulent strain of ticks whose bites contained a disease which killed human beings. The result was the construction of cities which isolated human beings from all things natural and condemned them to wholly artificial lives under the oppressive control of leaders like Portia Steel.
Juniper and Bear, sent by their parents from Ennerdale to live in the city with their grandmother Annie Rose in the mistaken belief that they would be safer there, are resistant to the disease. When Steel orders those who are resistant to undergo blood transfusions in the hope of passing on the resistance to others, Annie Rose realises it is time for the siblings to attempt to escape the city and make the perilous journey to Ennerdale to rejoin their parents.
Penfold creates a chilling and viciously controlled environment in Steel’s city where everything -including food – is artificially manufactured and all must abide by restrictive rules. It takes no great leap of imagination to see clear echoes of our own lives here, lives diminished by our increasingly aggressive overuse of the resources of our planet. Bear and Juniper’s journey is perilous and taxing but the protection of a lynx and of the band of Romany gypsies they meet when they are at their lowest ebb sustains them. It is, again, very telling that those elements of nature which they are able to identify they have previously only seen in books.
When they finally reach Ennerdale the poignancy of their mother’s death four years ago and their father’s temporary absence from the settlement beautifully avoid the saccharine trap of the happy ending. The children must decide where in the Wild their future will eventually lie, but wherever it is, they will be free.
Where The World Turns Wild is a beautifully crafted novel which skilfully weaves a multiplicity of narrative strands together. On one level it is an exciting and affecting read-on another it is an urgent summons to save what little we have left of the natural world.