When she was just shy of sixteen, Tracy Petrikoff’s mother died unexpectedly. Now, nearly two years later, Tracy is nearing adulthood but is struggling to find herself in the vast Alaskan tundra.
Tracy’s father, Bill, who was once a champion musher, has since given up the sport. Though he still has his dogs and Tracy shares that dog sledding is something she dreams of doing, Bill refuses to let her train for the upcoming annual Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. Like any good teenager, Tracy obeys her father to his face but totally disregards him to his back. Thus, she trains herself using Bill’s dogs at night, in secret.
During the day, Tracy, who was expelled from school due to the violent behavior she’s exhibited since her mother’s passing, lays traps and hunts nearby game to feed her family. Whatever she, her father, and her little brother, Scott, don’t eat, Tracy sells in a nearby town. One day, however, her monotonous daily routine is interrupted by a stranger who suddenly appears in the woods. Their encounter turns violent and the mysterious man attacks Tracy — slamming her around hard enough to knock her unconscious.
Later, when the man, who Tracy learns is named Tom Hatch, shows up at her house bleeding from a stab wound, she believes that she caused the injury. Tracy always carries a long, sharp blade with her when she’s hunting and assumes that she fought back when Hatch attacked her. However, after certain questions prompt her to re-visit the place she was attacked, she finds a duffle bag full of money but isn’t sure what to make of Hatch’s sudden appearance. Regardless, the money she finds is enough for her to enter the Iditarod, but as she’ll soon find out, taking money that isn’t yours has all kinds of consequences.
The story takes another turn when Jesse Goodwin, a seventeen-year-old drifter, suddenly shows up looking for work. Tracy bonds with him immediately, but the closer the two get, the more she feels like he’s keeping something from her. The secret behind who Jesse is is a major theme of the story, propelling the plot onward for the first half or so of the book. All the while, Hatch is lurking in the woods, waiting, planning his revenge. Things take an unexpected, mystical turn, though, and not necessarily for the better. Suddenly, what started out as a coming of age story and compelling mystery set in Alaska turns into a fantasy-like plot that is almost impossible to follow.
The story is told through Tracy’s point of view, and Bradbury wrote the whole book in first-person narrative. Oddly, there’s not a single quotation mark in the novel, even though at least half of the story is dialogue. I’ve never really seen anything quite like it, but it makes everything confusing. . . because it’s not always clear when someone is talking, thinking, or when Tracy is just narrating to the reader. All of that, combined with the mythical elements that truly are surprising, ruin much of what Bradbury built early on. Honestly, even after finishing the book and re-reading several parts, I’m still not entirely sure what in the heck actually happened.
Fans of fantasy and mythical stories will probably love Jamey Bradbury’s debut, but casual thriller fans (or readers who prefer action or physical thrillers) will almost certainly walk away from The Wild Inside more confused than anything.
Author: Jamey Bradbury
Pages: 320 (Hardcover)
Publisher: William Morrow
Release Date: March 20, 2018
Book Spy Rating: 4.5/10
Praised as “one of today’s finest book reviewers” by New York Times bestselling author Gayle Lynds, Ryan Steck is the editor-in-chief of The Real Book Spy, and one of the thriller genre’s most well-recognized critics. He currently lives in southwest Michigan with his wife and their five children. For more information, make sure to follow him on Twitter and Facebook!