Lily has escaped her life as a foster child by moving to Bolivia, the homeland of her favorite foster mother. Lily doesn’t really have a job, but her willingness to work hard cleaning a hostel, her frugality, and her Spanish skills help her scrape along. In Into the Jungle, by Erica Ferencik, Lily falls in love and follows her lover even further away from “civilization.” This novel unfolds over the course of a year as Lily tries to survive in a village in the Bolivian Amazon forest. This year is the hardest one in Lily’s far-from-easy life so far.
Everyone tells Lily that it’s a bad idea to follow Omar into the Amazon. Even Omar tells her this. And they are definitely not wrong. When a tarantula falls into her breakfast on her first morning in Ayachero, Lily is ready to bolt. Only her profound stubbornness and her love for Omar—he is her home, she tells people more than once—keeps her in place. There is heat, humidity, hordes of insects, resentful family members, poachers, unfriendly indigenous tribes, hunger, disease, and more trying to drive Lily out of the Amazon.
Ayachero is almost a textbook example of the destruction of the Amazon rainforest. The villagers are struggling to keep themselves fed because game has gotten scarce. (Lily attempts to be a vegetarian in the rainforest but ends up having to eat meat to keep from becoming completely malnourished.) The indigenous people, the Tatinga, have had to completely change their ways because they have lost so much territory. Poachers, miners, and others, have almost completely destroyed the ecosystem. The only way to have a steady life seems to be to leave the jungle entirely. Omar and, to a lesser extent, Lily, love the natural world (even if it is very uncomfortable and difficult). They might have been able to make a life, however hard, in Ayachero, if it weren’t for a very determined batch of mahogany hunters and a terrible case of leishmaniasis. The two threats lead to a pretty exciting climax.
Into the Jungle takes some time to establish itself. I found Lily a difficult character to understand because we are told more about her than we can learn from observation. She’s alternately very tough when she faces emotional battery from her lover’s family and very whiny when it comes to physical hardship. There were some times when she breaks down that I wanted to pointedly remind her that she chose to go to Ayachero and refused multiple offers of an out. Once she gets the hang of how hard life in the village is and the plot starts to ramp up, I was glad I hung around through the initial chapters. This turned out to be an interesting book in an interesting place.
I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley, for review consideration.