The End of the Wild
“Mostly I wonder if I’m just wrong. I wonder if everyone thinks fracking is more important than my mushrooms, my ramps, and my beechnuts. I wonder if fracking really is more important than the bears, the coyotes, and the wild turkeys.”
Fern is only eleven years old, but she shoulders many responsibilities. After her mother passed away, she has had to care for her brothers. She takes on numerous chores at home while trying to do well in school. Her kind-hearted but frequently unemployed stepfather, Toivo, is unable to keep up with the bills. Fern worries that Children’s Protective Services might separate her and her brothers away from Toivo.
The woods near Fern’s home is one of the few places where she feels comfort and stability. Guided by her mother’s handwritten recipe book, Fern also understands how the woods provides her and her family sustenance. When a fracking company sets up in the area and looks to turning the woods into the site of a wastewater pond, Fern begins to understand her role as the woods’ steward. But as she fights to protect the woods, she finds herself at odds with the people closest to her, who see the jobs offered by the fracking company as opportunities for familial and economic stability.
The End of the Wild does not explicitly reference climate change, but the novel offers a crucial starting point for discussing fracking and its consequences. The novel presents various and nuanced perspectives on fracking through the young characters, demonstrating how young people can develop a complicated relationship with energy. For example, Fern feels betrayed by her stepfather, who takes a job with the fracking company; yet she also sees how his job puts food on the table and gives her stepfather a sense of purpose. One of her best friends, Alkomso, appreciates how the fracking jobs means her father can live at home instead of driving a cab in another city; yet her research on fracking suggests that the process of extraction can have dire ecological consequences. Through a study of these perspectives, the novel can do more than just teach the pros and cons of fracking; it can facilitate discussions on energy justice and just transitions and move beyond the oppositional relationship of stable employment and care for the environment.
© 2021 ClimateLit (Lara Saguisag)
Audience: Questers (8-13)