Saturday, 11 July 2015

Into that Forest by Louis Nowra, reviewed by Ali Bacon

As far as I know, Into that Forest by Louis Nowra wasn't written specifically with young adults in mind, but it was recommended to me by two teenagers whose enthusiasm persuaded me to read it and I gather it’s a popular school read. It's a story about two teenage girls but it’s told by the heroine in her old age who starts with an apology:
"... me language is bad cos I lost it and had to learn it again" something we sense has been caused by the experiences she’s about to relate. 

Hannah lives in Tasmania and she recounts how as a child her parents drowned in a storm during a family picnic. As a result, Hannah and her friend Becky are lost in the outback where they come face to face with two tigers. Despite their terror, they come to realise that the tigers are their only friends and, in a classic tale of survival against the odds, they eventually form a close-knit family unit with the wild animals, letting go of the conventions of their former life and adopting animal behaviour.

At first this is a source of conflict between the two girls, with tomboyish Hannah happy to adopt the animal habits she sees will keep them alive while Becky clings to the remains of her clothes, her speech, and a memento of her mother, until a run-in with a tiger hunter convinces her that not all humans are better than animals.When, after several years, the girls are rescued, they find it equally difficult to revert to 'normal life' in the way that's expected of them and are subjected to a brutal kind of reprogramming. 

It's a remarkable and dramatic story told in a distinctive way with Hannah’s voice consistent throughout, touchingly recreating the innocence of time at which the 'adventure' took place and from which in some ways she has never moved on. The fact that the teenage readers took it as a true story rather than fiction is testimony to its authenticity. 

For me there were some flaws. I found the latter half of the book, where Hannah is packed off to sea on a whaler, less gripping and there were difficulties in maintaining a single first person narrator when Becky's story of the intervening time has to be filled in. The ending also felt too abrupt and I did wonder why the author chose to tell the story in Hannah's old age rather than in the voice of the younger girl, which would have made the events more immediate and the book perhaps more accessible to younger readers.
However  this is an unusual story excitingly told and an excellent read for much of its length. It clearly had two teenagers completely captivated and I would recommend it to able readers of any age who are ready to tackle an unusual voice and take a step into a very different world. 
The book is also available in paperback.