I watched the green hills pass by out the window. A lone bull elk stood majestically on top of a knoll, surveying the nearby valley. Off in the distance a competitor bugled, and he answered back, defending his territory . . . Bison grazed in the foreground, pronghorn galloped in the background, a family of moose tramped the Lamar River, a grizzly and two cubs wandered through the sage brush, and an eagle soared over all.
Yellowstone Survival is the story of 13-year-old John, who visits Yellowstone National Park with his parents and his camera, and it’s a stunning tribute to the beauty and majesty of this incredible wilderness reserve. The author is a true naturalist who deftly weaves facts about animals and their habitats with an intriguing story of survival in the wild.
I think the author struggled a little in the early drafts of this novel because a different kind of writing is required when the antagonist is the natural world. There’s no villain to act and speak, and the enemy can’t be faulted for having weak human traits like greed or jealousy.
After much thought and work, though, the author delivers an exciting, dramatic world of danger. Here’s a long excerpt that illustrates my point:
Then I noticed that the wolves seemed excited about something they saw downstream. I couldn’t see what they were interested in because of a willow thicket on the river bank, which made me curious. The wolves settled into crouching positions and slowly made their way toward the thicket. As soon as the first of them entered, a bellowing grunt arose from the willows. The wolves had attacked a snoozing bison. The grunt quickly turned into a panicked bellow that echoed around the valley. The bushes shook as the bison bulldozed away from the wolves, leaving a trail of trampled greenery. A few of the wolves leapt on him, but he bucked violently, throwing them off like rag dolls. Even the wolves could not take him out right there; he was obviously a full adult male, not someone to mess with without support. Apparently the wolves agreed, because as soon as they came back into view, they all howled for reinforcements. They were quickly answered by a howl over the ridge of the valley. By the sound of it, the rest of the pack would arrive soon, and the herd animals had better be on even higher ground.
Important and interesting information is presented on every page as John fights to survive and return to his family, and the story acknowledges both the destructive power of nature—whether it’s fast-flowing water, a sheer cliff, or a predatory animal—and the seductive power of nature and our desire to be part of it. This young author strikes a perfect balance between the two ideas with the wisdom and voice of a philosopher.
The protagonist makes friends with a wolverine, who follows him around like a puppy. At the end of the story, John realizes he’ll have to say goodbye to his new friend. I knew that wolverine had changed my life forever, in a few ways. For one, he had saved me during the cougar attack, and for another, he had been a great companion overall, providing moral support in his own funny way, like following me to the river.
In Yellowstone Survival, nature is portrayed as a force that can save us or destroy us—and that is simultaneously beautiful and terrifying—which means the author succeeded in everything he tried to do. It is a riveting and memorable story.