Love and Grief in Sarah Louise Butler’s The Wild Heavens
Book Review by Aura Clift
The Wild Heavens by Sarah Louise Butler, Douglas & McIntyre, 2020, ISBN 978-1771622585, 272 pages, $22.72
The Wild Heavens by Sarah Louise Butler is a coming-of-age novel, a love story, a tale of grief and strength, and a celebration of nature. After her mother dies, seven-year-old Sandy Langley goes to live with her grandfather, Aidan, in his little cabin in the interior of British Columbia, Canada. There, she becomes fast friends with Luke, a boy living with his mom in the only cabin close by. Sandy and Luke play in the woods, study, fish, hunt, and eventually partake in Aidan’s obsession over a very elusive creature they name Charlie.
When, one winter day, as an adult, Sandy finally sets out in the snow-covered woods to solve the mystery around Charlie, she is not just following its footprints, but she is also fulfilling her grandfather’s legacy, giving the story a sense of circularity. With gripping pace, the narrative alternates between the recounting of Sandy’s progress as she chases after Charlie and the flashbacks of her past. During these flashbacks, the reader follows Sandy, Luke, and Aidan in their everyday life punctuated with touching moments of tenderness, squabbles, and growth. The author delves deep into the relationship dynamics, showing with beautiful storytelling how they change throughout the different phases of Sandy’s life.
Nature is an important theme in The Wild Heaven. Set in British Columbia’s wilderness, Butler’s vivid descriptions bring to life a panoramic setting —two cabins deep into the forest, a trail leading to a lake just a stone’s throw away, and mountains framing the picture — while closeups of individual plants and animals contribute to the richness of the story, marking significant moments in the plot. A self-destructive army of toads provides insight into Sandy’s adolescent vulnerability, a bird tucked in her sweater offers a reflection on motherhood, the death of a deer showcases Sandy’s strength. Then there is Charlie’s mystery, intrinsically connected to nature and the way the reader perceives it, whether the reader views it through a scientific point of view, a spiritual one, or both. The Wild Heavens stirred in me a humble love for the characters and a profound longing for nature as if I too belonged to the wild heavens and one day “could be returned to the lake, to live among the cedars and hemlocks, the snowshoe hares and squirrels, to slink through the snowy forest on massive furry paws, silent as any ghost.” I am looking forward to reading more from author Sarah Louise Butler.
About the Reviewer – Aura Clift
Aura Clift is an Italian-Canadian writer. Born and raised in northern Italy, she now calls British Columbia her home. In her past roles as a Librarian (in Italy) and Marketing Manager for Christiane’s Lyceum of Literature and Art (in Vancouver, Canada) she has worked with readers and writers of all ages and at different stages of their careers. Aura is currently writing her first novel.
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