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Excerpt from Wildwood by Colin Meloy, Carson Ellis, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Wildwood
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  • First Published:
    Aug 2011, 560 pages
    Paperback:
    Sep 2012, 576 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Tamara Smith

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Print Excerpt

c h a p t e r 2
One City’s
Impassable Wilderness

As long as Prue could remember, every map she had ever seen of Portland and the surrounding countryside had been blotted with a large, dark green patch in the center, stretching like a growth of moss from the northwest corner to the southwest, and labeled with the mysterious initials “I.W.” She hadn’t thought to ask about it until one night, before Mac was born, when she was sitting with her parents in the living room. Her dad had brought home a new atlas and they were lying in the recliner together, leafing through the pages and tracing their fingers over boundary lines and sounding out the exotic place names of far-flung countries. When they arrived at a map of Oregon, Prue pointed to the small, inset map of Portland on the page and asked the question that had always confounded her:

“What’s the I.W.?”

“Nothing, honey,” had been her father’s reply. He flipped back to the map of Russia they had been looking at moments before. With his finger, he traced a circle over the wide northeastern part of the country where the letters of the word Siberia obscured the map.

There were no city names here; no network of wandering yellow lines demarking highways and roads. Only vast puddles all shades of green and white and the occasional squiggly blue line linking the myriad remote lakes that peppered the landscape. “There are places in the world where people just don’t end up living. Maybe it’s too cold or there are too many trees or the mountains are too steep to climb. But whatever the reason, no one has thought to build a road there and without roads, there are no houses and without houses, no cities.” He flipped back to the map of Portland and tapped his finger against the spot where “I.W.” was written. “It stands for ‘Impassable Wilderness.’ And that’s just what it is.”

“Why doesn’t anyone live there?” asked Prue.

“All the reasons why no one lives up in those parts of Russia. When the settlers first came to the area and started to build Portland, no one wanted to build their houses there: The forest was too deep and the hills were too steep. And since there were no houses there, no one thought to build a road. And without roads and houses, the place just sort of stayed that way: empty of people. The place, over time, just became more overgrown and more inhospitable. And so,” he said, “it was named the Impassable Wilderness and everybody knew to steer clear.” Her father dismissively wiped his hand across the map and brought it up to gently pinch Prue’s chin between his thumb and finger. Bringing her face close to his, he said, “And I don’t ever, ever want you to go in there.” He playfully moved her head back and forth and smiled. “You hear me, kid?”

Prue made a face and yanked her chin free. “Yeah, I hear you.”

They both looked back at the atlas, and Prue laid her head against her father’s chest.

“I’m serious,” said her father. She could feel his chest tighten under her cheek.

So Prue knew not to go near this “Impassable Wilderness,” and she only once bothered her parents with questions about it again. But she couldn’t ignore it. While the downtown continued to sprout towering condominium buildings, and newly minted terra-cotta outlet malls bloomed beside the highway in the suburbs, it baffled Prue that such an impressive swath of land should go unclaimed, untouched, undeveloped, right on the edge of the city. And yet, no adult ever seemed to comment on it or mention it in conversation. It seemed to not even exist in most people’s minds.

The only place that the Impassable Wilderness would crop up was among the kids at Prue’s school, where she was a seventh grader. There was an apocryphal tale told by the older students about a man—so-and-so’s uncle, maybe—who had wandered into the I.W. by mistake and had disappeared for years and years. His family, over time, forgot about him and continued on with their lives until one day, out of the blue, he reappeared on their doorstep. He didn’t seem to have any memory of the intervening years, saying only that he’d been lost in the woods for a time and that he was terribly hungry. Prue had been suspicious of the story from her first hearing; the identity of this “man” seemed to change from telling to telling. It was someone’s father in one version, a wayward cousin in another. Also, the details shifted in each telling. A visiting high school kid told a group of Prue’s rapt classmates that the individual (in this version, the kid’s older brother) had returned from his weird sojourn in the Impassable Wilderness aged beyond belief, with a great white beard that stretched down to his tattered shoes.

Copyright © 2011 by Unadoptable Books LLC. HarperCollins Publishers, all rights reserved.

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