Reporters dub the McClouds “the saddest family in Mercy, Oklahoma,” after a tornado ravages the town, leaving the four McCloud kids orphaned. The oldest, Darlene, sets aside her college plans to take care of her younger sisters, Cora and Jane, and brother Tucker, and they settle into a dismal, cramped, government-issued trailer on the outskirts of town. The family is barely scraping by when Tucker vanishes after a vicious fight with Darlene.
“Tucker simply disappeared,” author Abby Geni writes. “He tumbled into the blue like a pebble dropped into a pond—out of sight, the ripples stilling, the surface of the water growing opaque.”
He resurfaces three years later to reclaim 9-year-old Cora. The two take off on an interstate journey that turns into a crime spree as Tucker transforms into an increasingly unhinged ecoterrorist. Darlene, meanwhile, starts a tentative relationship with the policeman assigned to her brother’s case as they track crimes throughout Oklahoma and Texas that could be Tucker’s work: arson at a taxidermy shop, the shooting of the owner of a poultry processing company, and finally, a crime in California so catastrophic that it threatens Cora’s—and Tucker’s—very existence.
Geni, author of the critically acclaimed The Lightkeepers, is an astonishing storyteller who brings the sun-baked plains of Oklahoma to life on every page. The narrative toggles seamlessly between Darlene, a girl forced to grow up overnight, and Cora, a girl torn between her adulation for her long-absent older brother and her increasing awareness of his danger to her. The Wildlands is perfectly of its time, when humans are more alert than ever to our impact on the world around us.
ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Read our Q&A with Abby Geni for The Wildlands.
This article was originally published in the September 2018 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.