Breaking Wild hardly seems like a debut novel. The story flows easily and the characters seem real, not forced. The author, fittingly, is an English professor who teaches an MFA Program and is a former medical journalist. She’s also an avid outdoorswoman, which is transmitted strongly throughout the story.
This hearty adventure features dual protagonists—Amy Raye Latour and Pru Hathaway. Both women have interesting pasts that are slowly revealed throughout this tale of suspense and heartbreak. Amy has problems with alcohol and men. Not simple problems mind you, but serious ones that nearly cause her death. She’s promiscuous, a problem that causes her father to throw her out of the house. Thus begins Amy’s journey, one that causes her to wander and continue to abuse alcohol and herself by way of risky meaningless sexual encounters.
Amy eventually marries and has children. Her husband is a caring, wonderful man who’s the antithesis of his wife. She loves the outdoors and hunting; he despises any kind of violence and won’t stand for keeping any guns in the house. Amy simply learns to hunt with a bow, thus satisfying her need for adventure.
Pru is a single mom who works as a law enforcement officer for the Bureau of Land Management. She and her dog, Kona, are certified for search and rescue, the only such team in the county. The team often works with Sheriff McCormac when hunters go missing in the woods. Although it’s slow to develop, and mostly assumed, there is a romantic undertone to their relationship. But it never comes to fruition.
The meat of the story is the disappearance of Amy after she goes hunting with two men and sneaks off by herself early one morning. She’s searching for an elk she intends to bag with her bow. However, despite her knowledge of the wild, animals, and the elements, she becomes lost and disoriented in the deep snow as she tracks an elk she’s shot .
Both of the women reveal bits and pieces of their pasts as the story progresses. Amy’s is considerably more interesting and complex than Pru’s. Nevertheless, each character is fully developed.
What’s really well done is the author’s description of Amy’s survival in the wild. Despite being severely injured, she uses her skills to stay alive in bitter cold, deep snow, freezing winds, with predatory animals lurking about. There are times when too much description seems to slow an otherwise fast-paced adventure story, but the descriptions of Amy’s time in the wild and the search for her are beautifully written.
The climax is satisfying, although a bit unexpected, at least in how it’s delivered. I would have preferred a stronger denouement, one that answered several questions I still had on my mind. Yet with strong female protagonists and an outdoor setting that thrills over and over, Breaking Wild is a novel that will easily absorb your attention for hours.