Ten-year-old Moon Blake knows a lot. He knows where to find food in the forest, even in the middle of winter. He knows how to build a fire without a match, how to construct a simple shelter, how to shoot a deer from a hundred yards and how to make his own clothing from the hides. All these things Moon has learned from his father. Pap has also taught Moon to distrust the government just as he does. We never asked for anything and nobody ever gave us anything, Pap says. Because of that, we don't owe anything to anybody. Squatting in a one-room cabin in the middle of the Alabama forests, Moon and Pap have almost no other human contact. When Pap breaks his leg, he refuses to let Moon bring a doctor. Instead, he gives Moon just one piece of advice before he dies from the infection that sets into the wound: head to Alaska, where he'll be able to find other people who live off the land just as Moon has learned to do.
Alaska's a long way from Alabama, though, and Moon soon finds himself on the run from the law. When he lands in a juvenile detention center, Moon discovers that with the loss of his freedom, he gains good food and the first friends he's ever known. When he gets a chance to escape and live off the land once again, will he finally choose a lonely life in the wilderness, or can he learn to trust and live with other people who care for him?
In most other wilderness survival novels, young people must travel to the natural world in order to grow up. In his debut novel, Watt Key turns this genre on its head. In spare, unsentimental prose, Key offers a convincing portrait of a young man who is practically a professional in the wilderness but still has a lot to learn when it comes to friendship. Although parts of Moon's story may seem over-the-top, its fast pacing, adventurous storyline and true-to-life details about the natural world combine to produce a strikingly new kind of adventure novel.
Norah Piehl is a freelance writer and editor in the Boston area.