Anita Kelly’s Something Wild & Wonderful accomplishes an interesting feat: Its rich, lyrical writing manages to make hiking the 2,500-mile Pacific Crest Trail sound positively stunning but also like the last thing anyone but the most outdoorsy of us would want to do. But oh, these characters—I’d go on a journey with them anywhere.
Alexei Lebedev is hoping that hiking the trail will help him transition from Alexei 1.0 to Alexei 2.0: a version of himself who is more open, more adventurous, braver and happier. Someone who will be able to move past the emotional blow of his parents disowning him six months ago, after he came out as gay. Alexei 1.0’s life revolved around family and church, and now he has neither. He needs to figure out what comes next, but he never expected something as amazing as Ben Caravalho.
Where Alexei is a meticulous planner, Ben is spontaneous. Where Alexei is shy and socially awkward, Ben is outgoing, making friends around every corner. Alexei is dazzled by Ben right from the start, and some of the early speed bumps in their relationship come from the fact that Alexei struggles to believe that Ben could want not only him but also something long term with him. But that same openheartedness that so appeals to Alexei causes problems for Ben, who always falls too fast and gives too much of himself.
Something Wild & Wonderful is a journey of self-discovery, as Alexei comes to terms with who he is and learns to let go of who he was. It’s a journey of self-actualization, as Ben learns to stop blaming himself for past mistakes and accept a future built on the things that make him happy. It’s an actual, physical journey through a wide range of landscapes and climates, all of which Kelly depicts in gorgeous, moving prose. But most of all, it’s a journey to true love, made all the more believable thanks to the firm foundation Alexei and Ben start from. This isn’t a romance in which the main couple tease and taunt and drive each other up the wall before they finally hook up. This is a romance in which affection, desire, admiration, appreciation and respect radiate from every page. It’s crystal clear from the start that Alexei and Ben don’t just enjoy each other—they are actively good for each other. Something Wild & Wonderful is so sweet and satisfying that you’ll want to read it again and again, just to experience the various journeys within its pages.