Book Review

Something Wild and Wonderful by Anita Kelly

I adored Something Wild and Wonderful, a sweet romance between two men who meet while hiking the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). I thought it was a beautifully written, funny, warm, touching, empowering, and sexy grumpy-sunshine story. However, certain aspects of the book might make it a “love it or hate it” read. Readers should be prepared for discussion of homophobia in the context of coming out, and for one on-page instance of vocal homophobia.

Sometimes I sum up the plot all by myself but I’m tired today so I’ll let the publisher do the work:

Alexei Lebedev’s journey on the Pacific Crest Trail begins with a single snake. And it is angling for the hot stranger who seemed to have appeared out of thin air. Lex is prepared for rattlesnakes, blisters, and months of solitude. What he isn’t prepared for is Ben Caravalho. But somehow—on a 2,500-mile trail—Alexei keeps running into the outgoing and charismatic hiker with golden-brown eyes, again and again. It might be coincidence. Then again, maybe there’s a reason the trail keeps bringing them together . . .

Ben has made his fair share of bad decisions, and almost all of them involved beautiful men. And yet there’s something about the gorgeous and quietly nerdy Alexei that Ben can’t just walk away from. Surely a bad decision can’t be this cute and smart. And there are worse things than falling in love during the biggest adventure of your life. But when their plans for the future are turned upside down, Ben and Alexei begin to wonder if it’s possible to hold on to something this wild and wonderful.

An obvious stand out for this book is the setting. The Pacific Crest Trail starts near the California-Mexico border, goes along the crests of the Sierra and the Cascade mountains, and ends at the border of Canada. The trail encompasses desert and forest, valleys and mountains. The setting provides a variety of natural challenges that allow Ben and Alexei to support one another in different ways while constantly meeting new people who also provide new challenges. While the focus is not on nature writing, that element is solid and I was never bored. Above all, the setting allows for long comfortable silences that make it possible for the shy, quiet Alexei to warm up to Ben, and long periods of conversation that allow Alexei and Ben to get to know each other.

I also loved the characters. I truly can’t remember the last time I saw two characters play off of each other, and balance each other, and work together as well as Ben and Alexei. They are both comfortable with a lot of silence but good listeners when one wants to talk. They coach each other through anxieties (Ben hates hiking on snow and Alexei hates desert hiking, both of which are present on the trail). They appreciate each other’s differences and have fun together. Despite mutual insta-lust, they build a strong friendship before becoming romantic and it really pays off, given the amount of trust and intimacy they build before deciding to be a couple. I liked spending time with them. Now that the book is over, I miss them!

It is my sad duty to inform you that even though I JUST SAID that Ben and Alexei work together well, they each have a minimum of one moment of just massive, self-destructive stupidity. The reason this did not cause me to throw my book across the room as I usually would is that these moments are consistent with what we know of the characters. Because Ben’s trauma as a survivor of dating violence is not fully explored, his stupid moment is less convincing, but it still fits pretty well with what we know of Ben as a person who is trying to avoid romance for a while.

Meanwhile, the mistake that Alexei makes is a very, very big one but it fits perfectly coming from his traumatic experiences, ones which are explored throughout the book in a lot of depth. I didn’t want Ben and Alexei to make these mistakes, but I believed that they would make them, and I believed in the reconciliation process that they go through afterwards.

There’s a lot of serious emotional content in this book. First and foremost, Alexei is trying to rebuild his life after coming out to his conservative parents. Alexei’s family is closely involved in their church (he doesn’t state their religion or denomination) and since Alexei’s parents are not supportive, and the church condemns homosexuality, Alexei has lost his entire family and community. Alexei finds that more of his friends are supportive than he initially assumed, and his story is ultimately a hopeful and healing one. Still, he’s in a lot of pain for much of the book.

For the most part, Alexei and Ben meet supportive, friendly people on the trail, but they do have a run-in with a hostile group that uses homophobic language. Other hikers come to their defense, and Alexei and Ben are even able to find some humor in the situation after the fact, but it is still an ugly and scary moment.

Despite these instances, this is not a “tragic gay” story. Ben has a large and supportive family and friend group. Alexei becomes more confident and is able to build a satisfying life of his own. And of course, this is a romance novel so it’s not a spoiler to say that Ben and Alexei find a way to become a happy couple off trail as well as on, even though they have a lot of conflicts, both external (rattlesnakes!) and internal (trauma responses that are less than productive).

This book has some excitement, a lot of humor, sexy times, and trail realism. At times it felt out of balance, being more Alexei’s story than Ben’s despite alternating point of view chapters. The book made me want to go hiking again! Hopefully Disabled Hikers can help me find some wheelchair accessible trails. In the meantime, I can always read Something Wild and Wonderful again.

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Something Wild and Wonderful by Anita Kelly

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  1. Mandy says:

    I just finished this over the weekend. I picked it up because I was intrigued by the PCT setting (I’ve always been intrigued by the idea of doing long trail hikes but have never followed through). It was a delight! I loved both MCs and their sweet relationship.

  2. chacha1 says:

    ‘Something Wild & Wonderful’ is one of my favorite reads of 2023 so far and will very likely end up in the top 20, if not top 10. We are about to go up into the mountains (NOT backpacking, thanks) ourselves and I’m going to re-read it while we’re up there. 🙂

    If anyone wants a dose of sensational nature writing after SW&W, I recommend ‘One Day on Beetle Rock’ by Sally Carrighar.

  3. Maureen says:

    I loved this book so much! The setting and the characters were wonderful. I bought it several weeks ago and I’ve already read it twice.

  4. Leigh Kramer says:

    I love this book with all my heart! Anita Kelly’s best work yet.

  5. drewbird says:

    I saw it in the SBTB Book deals a while back as a kindle daily deal and stupidly forgot to buy it before midnight. So then I was able to it from overdrive and adored it – so good! It is now in my list that if it goes on sale again I am snagging a copy for myself.

  6. Kareni says:

    Thanks for your review, Carrie; I look forward to reading this.

    Sending good wishes that you’ll have the opportunity to hike soon.

  7. DeborahT says:

    I also loved this book. Thanks for the review!

  8. BTT says:

    Haven’t read this, but will definitely consider it. My husband and I thru-hiked the AT in 2011 (still married to each other), and let me assure you, there were NO on-trail sexy times. The thru-hiker funk is a real mood killer. 🙂 You haven’t showered in maybe a week, so eewwww. You are probably not going to shower anytime soon, so clean up is not happening. Just, no. Maybe since we were 40 at the time, but we made camp, ate everything in sight, and passed out from exhaustion. I guess the kiddos still had the energy for a little sleeping bag nookie, but not us. LOL

  9. BTT says:

    Forgot to add that I hope you’re hiking again soon, Carrie. Happy trails!

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