Review: Wayward Creatures

Wayward Creatures

by Dayna Lorentz

Clarion Books (imprint of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), 2022

Category: Middle Grade
Reviewer: Shirley Reva Vernick

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Twelve-year-old Gabe feels unmoored by the stress of his father’s unemployment and the shifting friendships of junior high. He acts out by setting off fireworks in the park, accidentally causing a forest fire that destroys acres of public land. When Gabe enters a restorative justice program, he gets the chance to repair some of the damage he has caused. It’s through this program that he gets to know and help Rill, a young coyote who was seriously injured in the fire.

Told in the alternating first-person voices of Gabe and Rill, this story agilely explores relationship dynamics, community, self-empowerment, and ecology. Lorentz imbues her faced-paced story with relatable characters who possess both humor and heart. Hard truths about consequences and responsibility are balanced by uplifting messages of personal transformation, healing, and connections – both the human and animal kinds. Animal-lovers will see themselves on the pages, and so will anyone who has ever felt alone, misunderstood, or helpless. I strongly recommend this book for middle-grade readers in and out of the classroom setting.
Gabe mentions recently quitting Hebrew school, eating apples and honey on Rosh Hashanah, and witnessing a kerfuffle over the brisket last Passover. The explicit Jewish content within Wayward Creatures may not be enough to qualify it for the Sydney Taylor Book Award. Still, its themes are closely aligned with Jewish values, and it’s rewarding to see a Jewish youngster learning to live his best life.

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Reviewer Shirley Reva Vernick is a MG and YA novelist. Shirley’s debut novel, The Blood Lie, is a Sydney Taylor honor book and the winner of the Simon Wiesenthal Once Upon A World Book Award. Her Jewish-themed MG novel, RIPPED AWAY, was released by Regal House Publishing on February 8, 2022.