1800’s Australia. Two young girls who are barely friends, get stranded in the wilderness. They’re on a river jaunt with one set of parents when a storm comes up, the boat capsizes and they’re lost in the ensuing flood. They survive because a thylacine, or Tasmanian tiger, that recently lost its own pups finds them on the riverbank and adopts them. At first just fighting to stay alive, survive the elements and avoid starvation, the girls slowly adapt to life in the wild. They learn to hunt with the thylacine, eat raw meat, and communicate with growls and body language instead of words. Terrified of their adopted parents getting shot, they avoid the few people they see. But the other girl’s father never gave up searching for them. Years later he finds them and drags them back to civilization. Tries to bathe them, make them wear clothes and sit at a table again, to speak in words. They have to be tied up because keep attempting to escape back into the forest. Until one is forced to go to school and the other ends up on a ship at sea- so oddly enough, the final part of the book involves a lot about whale hunting. The two girls never shake the close bond they formed when living in the forest and long to be together again. Warning: this does not have a happy ending.
This book is rough and stark. Not only because the language is broken (narrated by one of the girls who lost her use of language while living in the forest and struggled to regain speech) and some of the Australian terms unfamiliar- but also because there’s lots of blood and violence. The girls thrilling to the hunt, delighting in killing and eating other animals. Their behavior- especially when brought back to a tidy house- described as very uncouth and fierce. Bounty hunters and other humans shooting any thylacine they can, in retaliation for loosing sheep. Not to mention the descriptions of whales being butchered.
And yet I read it through in just a few sittings, gripped by the story. I wanted to like it a lot better, though. Many parts were rather unbelievable- even in the realm of fiction- the thylacine dragging them away from the river waters, for example (I found the way Ben was adopted by a badger in Incident at Hawk’s Hill much more plausible). And so much of the story felt like a retelling of Amala and Kamala from India, just in a different setting. Feral children raised by thylacine instead of wolves.