Wild by Jill Sorenson



by Jill Sorenson
November 1, 2014 · Jill Sorenson

I read Wild (the first book in the Aftershock series, not the book about hiking) because it involves a zookeeper at the San Diego Wild Animal Park. Since I have been to that park many, many times, I was curious. This was basically a good novella hiding in a crappy novel. Here are some Trigger Warnings and caveats:

  1. If plot lines about infidelity are a no-go for you, don’t go to this book.
  2. If you are opposed to zoos, then you will hate this book, which is at least 50% about the San Diego Wild Animal Park/Zoo and involves zookeepers, most of whom are not eaten.
  3. At least 90% of my enjoyment of the the book involved the fact that I’ve been to almost every named location in the book. If you’ve never been to San Diego, it will not be as exciting.

To the three of you that are left, I offer this review.

Wild is about what happens to five people when The Big One hits California. The Big One is what we call the next inevitable really big earthquake that will squish us all like bugs. We eat our avocado toast today, for we may be toast tomorrow. YOLO.

Anyway, our first couple is Helena and Josh, who are working at the San Diego Safari Park when the quake hits. Because of timing, almost no one is there and most employees evacuate, but Helena and Josh stay behind, hoping to tranquilize the most dangerous escaped animals, which include two lions and a Komodo Dragon. 

I’m very confused about where this storyline is set. The San Diego Zoo is much like any other zoo but bigger and fancier. The San Diego Zoo Safari Park is more like a smallish size animal refuge. Even though the place in the book is consistently called “San Diego’s Wildlife Park”  which must be a stand-in for the Safari Park, the location is CLEARLY the Zoo. I’m so confused.  If the book in general was vague about that kind of thing, I’d roll with it, but in other sections it’s meticulous when it comes to settings. For instance, when Helena and Josh take refuge by climbing a sky tram access ladder, I could see it exactly in my head because I’ve seen it in real life.

The Skyfari, a pic showing two of the cars above the trees.
The San Diego Zoo Skyfari. A generically named version of this is involved in many incidents in the book

My inner ten-year-old thought that running around the abandoned zoo at all hours was pretty nifty. I could have used more explanation with regard to the other animals – although, again, are we at the Park or the Zoo? It’s important! Are lemurs loose in the ruins? Are the polar bears (located only in the Zoo) lumbering northwards? Has anyone checked on the Panda? I need to know.

The other main characters are Chloe and her two-year-old daughter, Emma, who are driving over the Coronado Bridge at exactly the wrong time. Chloe and Emma get assistance from Mateo, a young man from Panama who was visiting the States with his soccer team.

The scene with the earthquake itself was genuinely terrifying, both in the zoo scene and in the bridge scene. The Coronado Bridge is terrifying to drive over even without an earthquake, and now I’ll never be able to cross it again without peeing my pants. Since they are main characters in the book, it’s not a spoiler to say that Chloe and Emma survive with some help from Mateo.

A panoramic view of the Coronado Bridge
The Coronado Bridge

Chloe, Emma, and Mateo have to walk from the Embarcadero to the naval hospital, which is a very long way from the Embarcadero but happens to be near the Zoo (but not the Park). Chloe is Josh’s sister. I wonder if at some point their paths will cross. Hmmmmm. Chloe and Mateo clearly hit it off right away, but he only speaks Spanish and she only speaks English. It’s odd that so many locations in the book in realistic while other details are not. Virtually everyone in San Diego speaks a tiny bit of Spanish. Even I do, and to my shame I am not at all bilingual, but I can say things like “Where is the bathroom,” “What is your name,” and the one we all learned in college, “Two beers, please.” So for Chloe not to speak any Spanish at all is pretty strange. However, it does provide an interesting dynamic between the characters.

Mateo has one dimension as a character and that is being perfect. He’s sweet with Emma. He’s resourceful. He’s kind and respectful towards Chloe. He’s handsom. Meanwhile Chloe, who is a young mom with a demanding toddler and a serious leg injury, depends on him at every moment. Normally this would bug me but frankly, if I had to limp across San Diego with an injury and a two-year-old I’d depend on Mateo, too. Chloe never complains, she takes good care of her kid, and she keeps her priorities in order. She’s not the most take-charge heroine, but she’s not passive either. She just needs help which makes sense given her situation. I loved their dynamic. I also loved that Emma is a realistic toddler – she’s not a brat, but she can throw a temper tantrum like a champ.

Meanwhile Josh and Helena are assholes to each other and to Helena’s boyfriend. Most of this book’s low grade is due to Josh’s misogynist and possessive comments, many of which go unquestioned. Josh claims to love strong women, and indeed he is impressed with Helena’s expertise with regard to the zoo. However, even though he keeps saying that he likes strong women, he also says (either out loud or in his head) a long list of sexist comments. He seems to think that if he has sex with Helena, which he’s sure will be the best sex she’s ever had, then she will be his forever. He uses the term “poaching.” He thinks of Helena as something he will win. He acts throughout as though he’s in a contest and Helena is both the contestant and the prize.

Meanwhile, Helena constantly underestimates and patronizes Josh. Most of the rest of the bad grade is due to Helena’s behavior. She has a long-distance boyfriend but has grown apart from him. She keeps using the boyfriend to get Josh to back off but doesn’t bother to send poor boyfriend a text saying she’s safe until she’s texted everyone else she knows. She tells Josh she wants nothing to do with him, makes out with him, and then repeats. She treats Josh like a just-out-of-college frat boy with no ambition when actually Josh served in the Navy for years and is taking some time to figure out his next move while also tackling a job that is much more difficult than Helena gives him credit for and helping his sister (Chloe) raise her baby. I don’t mind the “heroine has trust and intimacy issues” type of plot, but I do when the heroine is actually cruel.

So, there you have it – the location stuff is good except for the Zoo/Park location issue which is STILL BOTHERING ME. The earthquake is very well done. Whenever the story stays accurate to San Diego, it stays VERY accurate which heightens the tension enormously. On the other hand, because it’s so spot on some of the time, when it veers into anything that doesn’t seem likely, like Chloe not speaking any Spanish, the discrepancy is glaring. Mateo and Chloe and Emma are great together. Mateo in particular is horribly underdeveloped but the relationship overall is sweet, sexy, and optimistic. I thought that the way things played out at the zoo, especially post-shock, was unlikely, but my inner ten year old self didn’t care. If only Josh and Helena didn’t have to go and ruin everything for us both. The Josh and Helena storyline drags things to a D+ level but I loved Mateo and Chloe so they pull it up to a C-.

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