Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 316
Kristin Hannah’s novel takes an age-old fairytale concept, that of the “wild child,” and locates it in twenty-first-century Washington state. The rescue of the child, who emerges from the Olympia forest unable to speak, is paired with that of an adult, a disgraced psychiatrist who can be redeemed by helping solve the mystery of the girl’s sudden appearance. The girl, dubbed Alice, shows signs of having been abused. Julia Cates, the psychiatrist, is brought in to the case by her sister, the police chief in their hometown where Alice appears. The importance of trust in establishing a bond between patient and doctor, but even more between child and adult, is given paramount importance. The reader infers that trust is a past issue for Julia as well.
Alice has emerged from the woods; her past is unknown to anyone but herself. In the inverse situation, Julia lives in Los Angeles and achieved fame, even notoriety through her work: she emerges from the metropolis, and her past is well-known. As these striking contrasts are established early, it seems likely that other oppositions or parallels will emerge between them. The novel is realistic: that is, the author does not suggest that Alice is a fantasy who represents Julia’s own childhood. Nevertheless, as her sister Ellie is directly involved as well, some issues they had long since buried now resurface.
The author conceivably could have crafted an entire novel with this ample amount of complications. She chose to add the subplot of a rather conventional, heterosexual romantic attachment between Julia and another doctor, Max, who had initially treated the girl. Readers will probably be divided between being drawn into this relationship and seeing this aspect as a distraction from the fascinating issues of Alice’s re-entry into society. Although the reasons for her stay in the forest are gradually revealed, some readers may find that story unconvincing.
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