Engaging modern wilderness survival novel with heart: Sal by Mick Kitson
Sal is a touching and distinctive novel about two sisters trying to survive in rural Scotland. Sal prepared for a long time for her escape into the wilderness with her little sister Peppa: watching YouTube videos, reading the SAS survival handbook, and getting supplies and tools from Amazon using stolen cards. Robert, her mum’s abusive boyfriend, didn’t notice the missing cards. Now Sal must use her knowledge of building shelter and skinning rabbits to look after Peppa, now that she’s freed her sister from the dangers of Robert. Just as long as nobody works out where they are and wants to split them up.
The novel is written from Sal’s point of view and creates a vivid sense of her voice and thoughts. She is a character who shows the force of sibling love and protectiveness, but at the same time, Sal and Peppa aren’t cloying or annoying, but real siblings who tease each other and have different interests and strengths. The narrative is made up of the minutiae of their wilderness life as well as larger things that threaten to change it, and it provides a tense atmosphere at times, as it is clear it will be hard for them to go on as they are.
Sal has some similarities to Emma Donoghue’s Room though the premise is fairly opposite, as it uses a distinctive character voice to show a fraught situation become normal. Its writing style makes it easy to get invested in the sisters and it is certainly an enjoyable and gripping read, though a little slower at parts. It is deeply set in its Scottish location, both the wilderness and the scheme where Sal and Peppa escaped from, and is an exciting new novel with heart.