Cover Reveal: The Wild Path by Sarah R. Baughman
Talking about the reality of addiction is important to me both generally, because it’s a widespread issue affecting millions of people, and personally, because I have loved ones who have struggled with it. According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), 19.7 million American adults (aged 12 and older) battled a substance use disorder in 2017 alone. Despite its prevalence, addiction is often still clouded by stigma and shame. I believe that breaking the silence through honest discussion is the only way to move forward. Specifically, I believe that addiction has a place in middle grade literature because there are young readers who experience it in their families and should not feel alone.
Because of my interest in the issue, I knew for a long time that I wanted to tell a story about addiction, but this story didn’t come to me immediately as an “addiction story.” Instead, I imagined a girl who loves horses finding a strange box in her barn and working to uncover the truth behind it. Almost immediately, I knew her older brother would be dealing with addiction and that the box wouldn’t be the only mystery she’d be working to solve. I always love experiencing this alchemy of ideas, when various elements that might not have an obvious connection at first glance come together and eventually reveal themselves to be inextricably connected.
As many authors have probably experienced, I originally started this story in the wrong place. In fact, I wrote a whole book that eventually ended with the main character, Claire, discovering her brother’s addiction, only to realize as I typed “The End” that I wanted instead to tell a story about the aftermath: what happens on the path to recovery? Because recovery, of course, is a lifelong process and a difficult, rewarding one. I wanted young readers who might be experiencing a family member’s addiction to realize that the story does continue, and there is hope. Aside from realizing that I’d just written about 45,000 words of backstory, I was excited, because I knew where I wanted to go.
Although The Wild Path is first and foremost a story, there are also a few key points I wanted, through characters’ experiences and interactions, to convey. First, addiction is widely recognized by the American Medical Association and other organizations as a disease and as such, deserves both treatment and compassion. Addicts have experienced physical changes in their brains that significantly affect their behavior, and the consequences can be devastating both for themselves and for their loved ones. That said, the addicts in our lives are people we love and recognize as complex, complete humans. For example, Claire’s brother Andy is funny, intelligent, skilled with horses and machines and astronomy, and incredibly devoted to his sister.
I also wanted to convey that the addict is not the only one who benefits from recovery. It’s often said that addiction is a family disease because it affects people close to the addict. Much can be gained from focusing on the kind of personal growth Claire begins to experience in her support group meetings. Releasing guilt and blame, turning inward before turning outward, and maintaining hope and calm amid difficulty are a few of the benefits found in personal recovery.
In describing this book so far, I’ve talked a lot about addiction, but there are also some other elements in it that are personally relevant for me. Claire, for example, has anxiety, which can manifest in different ways for different people, with varying degrees of severity. I based Claire’s “flutter feeling” off of my own experience as a young person: a feeling I didn’t have a name for and have only since been able to recognize; and one that, while not wholly debilitating, nevertheless posed challenges. As I’ve gotten older and gained awareness, I’ve learned more about tools for dealing with anxiety. One important lesson I’ve learned and hope young readers who might struggle as well will relate to is that anxious feelings, like the sparrows Claire imagines flocking inside, might make their way to me; but they are not all of me. They can be managed.
And then there are the horses. Claire finds peace when she’s around them and so have I, ever since I was three years old and my dad made the fateful decision to take me on a pony ride. Many real-life barn chores, lunge lines, and woodsy trail rides full of surprises and speedy getaways inspired Claire’s adventures in this story; and I hope that other young “horse people” will relate.
Artist David Dean and designer Jenny Kimura conveyed the mystical power of horses and Claire’s beloved forest just perfectly in this gorgeous cover, which I am thrilled to share. I’m a big fan of the Nerdy Book Club and all you do to foster connections between kids and books. Thanks so much for letting me introduce The Wild Path here!
Sarah Baughman is a former middle and high school English teacher who now works as an educational consultant and author. She graduated from Grinnell College and the University of Michigan, then went on to teach English overseas in three different countries. After spending a number of years in rural northeastern Vermont, she recently moved back to Michigan with her husband and their two children.
The Wild Path is an earnest and heartfelt novel about a girl searching for a mysterious herd of wild horses while she struggles with anxiety and her feelings about her older brother’s battle with addiction.
Twelve-year-old Claire Barton doesn’t like the “flutter feeling” that fills her chest when she talks to new people or worries about the future, but she knows what she loves: the land that’s been in her family for three generations; her best friend Maya; her family’s draft horses, Sunny and Sam; and her older brother Andy. That’s why, with Andy recently sent to rehab after a DUI, and her parents planning to sell the horses, Claire’s world feels like it might flutter to pieces.
A possible solution presents itself at school when Claire’s teacher assigns the class a presentation: each student must research an historical concept that holds continued relevance. Motivated to overcome her dislike of public speaking, Claire decides to research how horses were used for in the past and how they can still be useful today. When she learns about equine therapy from a helpful neighbor, she begins to dream that starting her own equine therapy business will be enough to allow her parents to keep Sunny and Sam. But in the woods stretching for miles behind her house, Claire senses signs that she’s not alone in the quiet stillness, and that a mysterious herd of wild horses might live among the trees, too.
With the help of her best friend, her weekly support group meetings, and her family, Claire learns that it’s not her job to save anyone else, and that sometimes, instead of running after something you wish were there, it’s better to grab on to what actually is.