Review of The Wrong Way Home

The Wrong Way Home The Wrong Way Home
by Kate O’Shaughnessy
Intermediate, Middle School    Knopf    336 pp.
4/24    9780593650738    $17.99
Library ed.  9780593650745    $20.99
e-book ed.  9780593650752    $10.99

Since narrator Fern was six, she and her mother have lived on the Ranch, an isolated “sustainable futurist community” in upstate New York. Now twelve, Fern is completely accustomed to the unquestioned authority of Ranch leader Dr. Ben and his “ideals,” which emphasize a reverence for nature. Readers may begin to realize long before the protagonist does that the Ranch’s way of life has its flaws; as the story opens, a teen community member has died during a rite of passage. But still, when Mom recognizes those extremes and escapes to California with Fern, it’s understandable that Fern finds the outside world scary and, even as she begins to reacclimate, is determined to find a way to go “home.” As in Lasagna Means I Love You (rev. 3/23), O’Shaughnessy presents a high-stakes situation and zeroes in on a child narrator’s believable emotions. That tight focus on the young narrator even when she is misguided or doesn’t have all the facts allows readers to draw their own conclusions based on the gradually increasing information she has—about the events that led her mother to choose the Ranch, and in separating what can sound like positive environmentalist values from the dangerous reality of a cult.

From the May/June 2024 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Shoshana Flax

Shoshana Flax, associate editor of The Horn Book, Inc., is a former bookseller and holds an MFA in writing for children from Simmons University. She has served on the Boston Globe–Horn Book Award and Sydney Taylor Book Award committees.

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