‘The Wild Book’ by Juan Villoro (Review)

2017 wasn’t the best of reviewing years for my young assistant, Emily.  After finishing off the Wildwitch series early in the year, she had a few false starts before burying herself in her school and library books (while returning to her Harry Potter favourites on a regular basis…).  That left no time for reading any review titles, but when I saw a new book out from an interesting new press, I had a feeling that it might just be one for my little helper…

*****
What’s the name of the book, and who is it by?
The book is called The Wild Book, and it’s by Juan Villoro (and it’s translated by Lawrence Schimel, review copy from Yonder Books).

What’s it about?
It’s about a boy who goes to live with his uncle (who owns a giant library).  He soon learns that the library isn’t just an ordinary library – it’s home to the most amazing book in the world, the Wild Book!  However, his uncle cannot find it, so he gives his nephew the important job of hunting it down.  This isn’t as easy as it seems, though, as the book has a mind of its own.

Did you like it?  Why (not)?
I liked it because there was a lot about books and funny explanations about how books ‘think’.  For example, if you can’t find a book, it’s probably because it doesn’t want to be read…

What was your favourite part?
My favourite part was when Juan went to the pharmacy and saw Catalina, in his opinion the prettiest girl ever.  It’s funny because boys are so stupid when they fall in love!

Would you recommend this book to other boys and girls?  Why (not)?
I would recommend it to maybe girls and boys a little bit older than me (I’m ten) because kids my age would find it a bit boring, without enough adventure and exciting incidents (or basketball…).  Maybe it would be good as a young adult book.

Emily, thank you very much.

*****
Despite the male protagonist, it’s not hard to see why a bookish little girl might be interested in The Wild Book, with its main character having a special quality that makes books respond magically to him.  We’ve all experienced the sensation of being lost in a book, but this is a novel that introduces the idea of the books being lost, and of our having to track them down before we can read them.  There’s a reader for every book, and a book for every reader, but if you follow that idea to its logical conclusion, it also means that there are some books that you might not even be allowed to approach.

Having been sent to stay with his uncle, young Juan is initially annoyed at the break in his routine, but the encounter with Catalina and the discovery of the library soon change his mood.  He is startled to discover that the books he reads seem slightly different when Catalina tries them – as his uncle explains:

“Every book is like a mirror: it reflects what you think.  It is not the same if it is read by a hero than if it is read by a villain.  The great readers add something to books, they make them better.  But very rarely does something like what you told me take place.  When someone modifies a book for you and you can tell, it means that you’ve reached a way of reading that resembles a river.  No river remains still, Nephew, its waters change.”
p.69 (Yonder, 2017)

There’s a wistful tinge to the old man’s explanation, and that comes from the reason why he spends his life cooped up with all his books.

Regular readers might recognise Villoro’s name from his collection of essays on football, God is Round (a book I enjoyed), and The Wild Book is his first, very successful, YA novel.  There’s another first here, too, as it’s the headline release for Yonder, a new imprint of Restless Books specialising in children’s literature (or, as the website has it, ‘Restless Books for Young Readers’).  As has been the case with a lot of the books Emily has reviewed, there’s also a top-class translator on the job, with Lawrence Schimel (a *very* accomplished – and busy – man) bringing this one into English, and doing a great job of it too.

An excellent story, a top translator and a beautiful object to boot, The Wild Book certainly bodes well for the new press (check out future releases here).  As Emily suggested, it might be more suited to slightly older readers (Emily is ten, but Juan is thirteen, and that might be the target age), but anyone with a passion for reading will find something to enjoy in Villoro’s novel.  Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to get back to my study – you see, there’s a book I want to read, and I appear to have mislaid it…

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