On the Free

280p. Carolrhoda Lab. Oct. 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781512429138.
Gr 8 Up—A violent nighttime storm in Colorado's Weminuche Wilderness area decimates a campsite where four juvenile offenders and two counselors are participating in a wilderness therapy program. Santiago "Santi" Rivas and his antagonistic tentmate, Victor West, become airborne in their tent and tumble down the mountain in windswept darkness. They find the junior counselor, Amelia, injured in the mudslide, and the threesome set out to find help an estimated 18 miles away. The inhospitable terrain impedes the trio's progress as they cope with injuries, a lack of supplies, and evidence of mountain lions. This "man vs. nature" conflict drives the plot and fuels tension among the emotionally troubled young people. Chapters flash back to family dynamics that shaped each character, such as Santi's disengaged guardian in a gang-ridden neighborhood, Victor's controlling stepfather who used his wealth to intimidate, and Amelia's nomadic family who moved her from school to school, causing her feel as if she didn't belong. Behavioral motivations come to fruition in the final chapters because Victor is harboring a secret that changes the group dynamic; its resolution becomes the ending's focus, leaving readers to speculate about their fate. Outdoorsy teens will appreciate the realistic hiking and camping takeaways, such as wearing good shoes and being able to read a map, stake a tent, or splint an injured limb.
VERDICT An additional purchase for where survival fiction is popular.

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