This book made me smile, laugh, & ugly cry. I loved it!
Which feels weird to be saying now because my first impression was much less than stellar... it was essentially horrible.
So, gather 'round the virtual campfire & I'll tell you the tale of how a contemporary romance novel, The Simple Wild by K.A. Tucker, simply blew me away.
THE SET UP
Calla, our female protagonist, is 26 and living a privileged life in Toronto with her mother, and doting stepfather.
Things are pretty alright. Sure, she just lost her job, & sure, her boyfriend seems like he's a jerk, but neither of those things are gonna affect her much in the long run.
Then, out of nowhere, a woman named Agnes calls from Alaska to tell Calla her father has lung cancer.
Calla hasn't spoken to her father in 12 years.
As far as she's concerned, her stepfather, Simon, is her only father. 24 years ago her mother packed their things and left the rugged Alaskan wilderness behind. Her father, Wren, never bothered to follow.
Even now, in his poor health, he's not the one calling her.
Calla wrestles with how to feel about this. Luckily for her, Simon is a psychiatrist.
Calla accepts that there's nothing currently keeping her in Toronto.
She theoretically COULD make the trip to Alaska. And she probably SHOULD take this opportunity to get to know the man who stayed behind there.
Beyond that, whatever happens, happens.
A REAL ROUGH START
Calla’s not great at the start of the story. And we're in first person, present tense, so there's no escaping her.
Her concerns are surface level, and she seems generally unenthused with her life.
She's not exactly a brat, but her narrative is judgmental & overly descriptive. She seems too concerned with minutia & not enough with the bigger picture.
But this makes sense for her character since her basic needs are all cared for.
We the reader know she’s going to have a hard time in remote Alaska. We assume we're going to watch her struggle, but then ultimately have a change of heart...
But at this point, I'm 50 pages in, and I'm really doubting if I can enjoy her POV for another 300 pages.
She's doing absolutely nothing for me. I'm not interested in what cars her parents drive, or that anecdote about how they're fortunate to have a driveway. Yes, street parking in the snow is a bitch. We know that. But you don't even drive!
Luckily, once we get to Alaska, we start to get some reasons to sympathize with her.
THE LOVE INTEREST
When Calla reaches the last leg of her long journey she's on the tarmac in Anchorage headed for a charter plane to take her into Bangor.
It'll be a plane from her father's company, Alaska Wild.
But it's not her father whose waiting for her.
Instead, it's Jonah, a hulking, ill-mannered, pilot, with zero patience for her. Even though he's not much older than she is, he's Wren's best pilot.
He's flown in with a plane so small that Calla's not certain she should take the flight. Even worse, there's no room for her luggage, so she needs to leave all but the essentials behind.
We're off to exactly the kind of start I would have expected. Only, while I thought Jonah would give Calla a hard time, I didn't think he'd be a complete jerk to her. He is.
We quickly find out that Jonah could have taken a larger, more comfortable, plane with enough room for all her stuff. He specifically chose not to.
He's also highly critical of her right from the get & not shy about telling her.
This continues to be the case for the next 100 PAGES.
Now I'm really doubting my ability to continue on with this book.
SO WHAT KEPT ME READING?
You might be asking yourself, or not, that's fine too. (lol)
Two things: (1) The painfully reserved personality of Wren, which is complicating their already estranged relationship. (2) Calla's willingness to get to know him, and Bangor, despite all the years of her mother trash talking it, and Calla's own, justified, baggage.
I was completely invested in the repairing of their father/daughter relationship.
What could have caused this seemingly decent, seemingly caring, man to let his family walk out of his life forever, and then ghost them?
Jonah, however, continued to grate on me.
His chewing Calla out over superficial shit like her desire to wear makeup and drink soy milk felt old fashioned and obnoxious. His pranking juvenile.
I was liking Calla more, but him less. But now, I'm certain that's exactly how I was supposed to feel.
K.A. Tucker had my emotions completely under her control, and I didn't even realize it.
After witnessing enough of Jonah's bad actions, I started to piece together that they were essentially mirroring Callas.
They're two sides of the same coin.
They're both perceptive, judgmental, and snarky.
Jonah calls Calla a Barbie, telling her she's too concerned with appearances and superfluous etiquette for Alaska, while Calla calls Jonah a Yeti, and can't understand why it's so hard for him to keep groomed and polite in the name of human decency.
Jonah's philosophy would likely get in his way in a big city, where appearances mean everything, and Calla's is putting a rift between her and Alaska.
We've also JUST started to see some of Jonah's good qualities. His seriousness and skill as a pilot. The way he treats Wren. How so many in Alaska rely on him. Despite his own distrust of Calla, he helps her when it really matters too.
AND THEN IT GOT GOOD, LIKE REALLY GOOD
So there I was.
150 pages into this book, FINALLY seeing that our romantic plot actually has A LOT of potential. Finally, learning the complicated truth behind why Calla and her father became estranged 12 years ago.
Neither of which I'm going to spoil the details of here.
The stakes involved in flying and operating a small charter plane company are almost always high. And Calla begins to feel them right away, bringing her closer to a life she could have in Alaska, if she wants it.
If she wants more time with her father, if she wants to take over his legacy, if she wants Jonah.
But knowing the tragic outcome her own family endured after her mother had had enough of Alaska has her feeling reluctant to embrace it.
I did cry through most of the ending of this book but...
SATISFYING, SUBTLE CHARACTER GROWTH FOR CALLA
We don't just get told that Alaska changes Calla, we get to see it for ourselves.
What I particularly appreciated about her development was the way the author chose to show this change.
It was subtle, and realistic, and made this story way more meaningful to me.
Calla doesn't go from fashionable, reluctant blogger, big city gal to saving school children from bears out on the glaciers. And I'm thankful for that, because I probably would've been inclined to call bullshit.
She's still the same Calla. She takes photos & she wants to look nice, but her narrative voice changes over the course of the novel.
The thoughts that surface are about the things she finds herself wanting to do, her evolving feelings towards all the people she's met in Alaska, and of course, the newfound importance of her relationship with her father.
You get to see the positive impact Alaska has had on her, while also witnessing her give back from within her own strengths.
After a crazy turn of events, that nobody saw coming, least of all me, I'm rating this story 5/5⭐️.
While I didn't enjoy the beginning of this novel at the time, I can look back on it now and realize how clever it was.
I think the 5 main characters are going to stick with me for a while. I appreciated this stories depiction of the messy, unfortunate, parts of life. I loved seeing four supportive parental figures, even when the main character was an adult herself. And the romance was hot.
Honestly, I think you'll love this story too, because I haven't seen one bad review of it yet.
SHOULD I HAVE BEEN SURPRISED THOUGH?
I was a big fan of the American TV series Hart of Dixie (2011-2015) with its story about a city girl taking on small town life, and learning about the father she didn't know she had.
I also love the movie Leap Year (2010) where our female protagonist runs off to Ireland to propose to her long time, superficial, boyfriend, but ends up on a rugged adventure with a handsome pub owner instead.
Even beyond a romantic plot, I'm a sucker for a story about a character getting their wants destroyed while discovering what it is they truly need.
Have you read The Simple Wild? I know it's gained more traction lately because the sequel just came out. But I bet plenty of you read it a while ago. 😝
Thanks for reading!
Photo taken by me