A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
Kids will learn about whaling at the end of its peak: how whales were hunted and butchered, how their blubber was rendered into oil, and what made whales so valuable to the perfume industry. They'll also learn about animal extinction and man's contribution to it, not only of whales but more particularly of the thylacine, a carnivorous marsupial also known as the Tasmanian tiger or Tasmanian wolf.
The story poses thought-provoking questions about the nature of family bonds, friendship, loyalty, and survival. What is a family, the ones you're born to or the ones who raise you, or both? How can you stay true to loved ones when you become separated? What would you do to survive? Sometimes well-intended or positive actions result in tragedy. Does that make the person bad? The book purports merely to lay out events as they came to be understood by narrator Hannah, without passing judgment one way or the other.
Positive Role Models
Hannah and Becky are both tremendous models of endurance and survival. Becky has a harder time letting go of civilization and is more eager to return to it, but she eventually adapts fully to life in the wild and remains loyal to the tigers and to Hannah, even after rescue. Hannah displays remarkable resilience, not only in adapting to life in the wild but to patiently making the best of her lot once she's assimilated again into human society. Both girls' parents are loving, and most other adults are well meaning but misguided in their attempts to help. The villain, a tiger hunter, is repulsive, and killing tigers is shown as wrong. But the need to protect farmers' livestock is fairly presented.
Violence & Scariness
Blood and gore are frequently described in detail, mostly in the context of hunting and killing to survive. Bloody injuries also are mentioned but not usually described. Hunting and butchering whales for oil is described in detail. Shooting and skinning a thylacine is described. Main characters die violently. There's a mention that a hunter strangled pups in the past. People and animals nip and bite as warnings or to defend themselves. People and animals get shot with hunting rifles. Once, Hannah describes winter cold as "like having your bare bum whipped with a switch."
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
A boy tries to kiss Hannah and asks her to do a "rude thing" that is not explained. Becky sees the tiger man doing a "rude thing" to himself, which Hannah is too young to understand and Becky refuses to explain. Ernie shows Hannah his genitals and points to hers in an asexual attempt to communicate about gender without language. Becky and Hannah see their thylacine parents mating from a distance, but it's not described.
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"S--t" is used frequently but always as a bodily function or product. Once dogs are mentioned as being "scared s--tless." "Piss" is used frequently, always for urination except for one "pissed off." The female thylacine (a canine-like carnivore) is referred to about a half-dozen times as the "bitch." "T-ts," "damn," "hell," and "arse" are used once or twice each. Indigenous people are several times referred to as "black fellas" without any racist undertones.
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Mentions of adults drinking beer or whiskey, sometimes to excess. The consequences aren't always conveyed because they'd fall outside the narrator's understanding or experience. But, in one incident on the morning after a binge, she finds the ship's captain covered in his own vomit. The villain smokes and is an unappealing character.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Into That Forest graphically depicts life and death in the wilderness. There's a lot of blood and gore that might shock readers of any age, but it's in the context of a survival story. Even the civilized people in the remote, early-20th-century setting have a closer relationship to life and death than we may be accustomed to now, but it's matter of fact in this context: People and animals get shot with hunting rifles, and accidents happen. Hannah uses salty language not to swear but to convey information ("s--t" and "piss" for body functions or product, except one instance of "pissed off"). The female thylacine is referred to a few times as the "bitch." "T-ts," "damn," "hell," and "arse" are used once or twice each. Indigenous people are several times referred to as "black fellas" without racist undertones. There are mentions of adults drinking beer or whiskey. A man shows a girl his genitals and points to hers in an asexual attempt to communicate about gender without language. Main characters die violently and tragically, and readers may shed some tears.
Is It Any Good?
INTO THAT FOREST carves its own spot among literature's great adventure stories. As fantastic as the events are, author Louis Mowra's unusual, distinctive narrative voice is so believable you'll think it must be a true story. Complicated themes of family, friendship, and loyalty are artfully explored with a visceral and sometimes brutal beauty. By having Hannah tell the story with a young child's understanding, Mowra conveys tremendous depth of feeling without sentimentality. This is not to mention the gripping, lean, fast-paced action that makes it almost impossible to put down.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.