Falcon Wild
by Johnson, Terry Lynn

With her father and brother injured in a car accident, thirteen-year-old Karma sets out into the Montana wilderness to find help, accompanied by mysterious hitchhiker Cooper, who rescued her from a fall into a crevice.

Terry Lynn Johnson is the author of middle grade adventures based on her experiences in the wilds of northern Ontario, Canada, including Ice Dogs, Sled Dog School, and Survivor Diaries, a series for reluctant readers (HMH). She is an award-winning member of the Outdoor Writers of Canada and currently works as a Conservation Officer with the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry.

Homeschooled 13-year-old Karma loves her rescued falcon, Stark, and is obsessed with learning to be an apprentice falconer; but her father, owner of a bird sanctuary, finds Stark's original owner and insists on returning her. He allows Karma and her younger brother to accompany him and the bird to Canada, but soon after dropping off a young hitchhiker, Cooper, the trip goes terribly wrong. Their van overturns, trapping Karma's father, and she must trek across unfamiliar, rugged terrain in search of help. A day later, she is joined by Stark and Cooper, who both sense Karma needs assistance, and together they endeavor to survive the wilds of Montana. Riveting action and harrowing experiences keep readers on the edge as the kids and falcon race to get back to Karma's father and brother before it's too late. Cooper's character develops as his backstory is revealed, and fans of Gary Paulsen's Hatchet series will see parallels between Brian and Karma, particularly their strength in the face of adverse circumstances. An exhilarating survivalist adventure. Copyright 2017 Booklist Reviews.

Lost in the Montana wilderness, two white children and a tame gyrfalcon learn to trust one another. Thirteen-year-old home-schooled Karma lives in Montana on her family's bird-of-prey education center, where she helps her white father train raptors. Karma longs to have friends but worries she talks too much about hawks and falcons-her favorite is a rescued white gyrfalcon named Stark. When Stark's owner reclaims her, Karma reluctantly drives with her father and younger brother to deliver her. Shortly after letting off an unfriendly teenage-boy hitchhiker named Cooper, their van blows a tire and crashes. With her father and brother injured and Stark escaped, Karma sets out to find help. After she falls into a crevice, she is rescued by the mysterious Cooper, who spotted her thanks to the white bird circling overhead. Overjoyed to find Stark, Karma continues her search for help. As she and Cooper hike into the wilderness, they endure a slew of unfortunate events that wou ld make Lemony Snicket proud (grizzly, near-drowning, falling, infection, thunderstorm/hail), and Cooper gradually reveals his past. Karma's simple present-tense, first-person narration is inconsistent in her worry for her father and brother, and interesting information on falconry and raptors is imparted in an academic style that lacks smooth integration into the story. The components are there; the cohesion is not. (Adventure. 9-12) Copyright Kirkus 2017 Kirkus/BPI Communications. All rights reserved.

Stark senses my fear and pulls at the jesses around her feet. I stroke her breast feathers to calm us both. Trainers should never show nerves to a bird of prey.

I try to slow my breathing as I listen to Dad introduce lure training-my part of the demo. It's my specialty. His falcon, Gremlin, isn't even hooded and sits patiently on his fist, making me regret my insistence on showing Stark. She's not as seasoned as Gremlin. This is her first school demonstration with me. Surveying the crowd, I can't remember why I thought this would be a good idea.

My favorite lure is hidden in my satchel. It's a weighted, stuffed bit of leather in the shape of a duck at the end of a long string. I've already attached a tidbit of meat with the ties in the center. The lure is ready, and Stark is ready. But for the first time since I started helping with demos, I'm not sure I am ready.

"Is it heavy?" asks a girl on the bench behind where I'm standing. She's probably my age, since we're doing this demo for an eighth-grade biology class. Her straight, blond hair falls in a glossy sheet over her shoulders, nothing like my frizzy, auburn hair.

She points to Stark, and the two girls sitting next to her giggle. I realize I'm still staring at her and rush to answer.

"Gyrfalcons are the largest falcons in North America. And females are bigger than males, so she can get heavy. Almost the same weight as a bowling ball," I say. "I mean, the small kinds of balls. You know the kind you bowl with when they have all the neon lights going, like it's a party? It actually was my party. We went on my birthday."

From the look on her face, I know I need to stop rambling. But I hear myself reaching to keep her attention. "My neighbor Michelle came bowling with us. She lives a few houses down. We've been friends for ages even though she's three years older than me. She goes to school." Stop talking. Stop it. "Maybe you know her, Michelle Miller?"

Before the girl can answer, I feel a shift in the audience as all eyes turn to me. My attention snaps back to Dad.

"My daughter, Karma, is one of the best bird handlers in Montana. She'll show you how fast falcons can fly by swinging a lure for Stark to chase," he says. "Stark is a gyrfalcon, the same family as Gremlin, my peregrine here. Are you ready to meet her?"

I give the girl an apologetic smile, then stand taller and walk to the center of the pit. One of the teachers starts a round of polite clapping. The October sky hangs blue and clear. A brisk northerly picks up speed coming off the mountain range to the west and sweeps across the sagebrush. A perfect day for a flight. I turn on my headset microphone and launch quickly into my speech.

"Here at the education center, we have hawks, falcons, eagles, and owls. We call them all raptors, which is a term for birds of prey. Falcons, like Stark here, have long, thin toes." I point to her gorgeous, yellow feet.

"Their beaks are short, with a notch that acts like a tooth. It fits between the neck vertebrae of their prey. Falcons kill prey by breaking their necks. Hawks, however, have strong feet and talons for gripping and puncturing vital organs. That's how they kill prey."

As I recite my speech, I walk the perimeter so everyone can see Stark up close. Later they'll have a chance to hold one of the kestrels, our smallest falcons.

"Some raptors' talons can apply four hundred pounds of pressure. Humans can maybe squeeze twenty pounds." I pause for effect before the punch line. "Depends how much you work out."

Scattered laughter makes me smile as I make eye contact with everyone. All the best performers make eye contact. The blond girl doesn't smile back. She talks to her friends behind her hand. My stomach tightens as I wonder if they're talking about me.

I keep my left arm angled to comfortably hold the three-pound falcon and not tire myself. Normally, all of my attention is on the bird on my fist, but I can't help sneaking glances at the three girls. Are they impressed with Stark's white plumage? Maybe they wish they owned a falcon. I should have said more about falcons instead of bowling. Why do I always do that? If I'd been more interesting, maybe they would've wanted to visit, which could've led to a friendship-and then to sleepovers with pizza and sharing secrets and braiding each other's hair. All the regular things friends do.

Stark holds her beak partially open as she shuffles on my gloved hand, and I automatically pinch the jesses between my fingers to keep her from flying off.

"Falconers like to stick with tradition and use the old words for things," I say. "For example, we call this glove I'm wearing to protect me from the talons a gauntlet."

I point to the other pieces of equipment. "The leather bracelets on Stark's legs are called anklets, and the thinner leather straps that hang down from the anklets are jesses. The legs are the strongest part of the bird."

I reach for Stark's hood, but my attention strays to the girls. The moment the hood is off, Stark's sharp beak sinks into my bare arm just above the glove. I yelp in pain and surprise.

Fighting the same panic that surely courses through Stark's own body, I force myself to calmly gather the jesses between my fingers and go still. The worst thing to do is what I want to do-scream and shake my arm.

I am calm. I am not afraid. I am safety.

Guilt sticks in my throat as she releases her bite and bates, trying to fly away from me. The jesses prevent her from leaving my fist. She hangs upside down, flapping. I wait until she pauses, and then I swing her upright, my jaw clenched. I should've noticed she was unsure of the crowds. I should've paid attention.

The blood is thick and red as it trickles into my gauntlet and down my wrist.

Her wings deliver blows across my face. To avoid them, I straighten my arm and accidentally loosen my fingers, releasing her jesses-something I haven't done since I was seven. Stark rises into the sky with her jesses still attached. If she flies to a tree and they tangle in the branches, I will never forgive myself. I'm supposed to keep her safe, but I've let her down.

Students shriek and point in the air, shoving each other. Dad secures Gremlin to a block and then swings a lure. He whistles to my bird in the sky.

Shamefaced and shocked, I stare at the skin of my forearm, already purpling around the punctures. Now that I don't need to pretend composure for Stark, my hands begin to shake. My knees won't work properly. I gape at the chaos of kids pointing and laughing, teachers shouting orders, and the three girls now covering their heads and screaming. Dad's voice comes through the speakers, telling everyone to stay calm. I stand there watching it all happen in slow motion.

Stark goes for the lure, making everyone yell again and duck for cover. When Dad picks her up, he allows her the tidbit she earned from the lure. We can never forget that the birds come first. Only when Stark is secured to a block does he dart over to me.

"I don't understand what just happened. Are you okay?"

He quickly inspects the bite, but then looks back to the crowd of people still sitting in our ring.

This is very bad. It's the opposite of what we're trying to do with a school group. We want to show them how well mannered and amazing the birds are. I've never been bitten without food involved. It's not something raptors usually do. And now it's happened here, in front of everyone.

"Get into the house, Karma. Go call your mom," Dad orders.

I race to the house and yell for Gavin. He's supposed to be practicing his times tables, but I bet he's reading.

"Get Mom on the phone, Gav!" I shout. "Stark nailed me!"

He bursts out of his room, eyes round, holding a Spider-Man and the X-Men comic book.


"Mom. Phone. Nailed." I whip off my gauntlet and flex my fingers. How could I have let this happen? Especially after Stark footed me already this month. I still have the marks where she grabbed me with her talons. I knew she might not work as an education bird, but I thought I could fix bad imprinting.

Feeling as if I'm going to be sick, I slump into a chair, rest my head on the kitchen table, and prop my arm carefully across the top.

Gavin hands me the phone. "Let me see. Oh, there's blood!"

I forget sometimes he's only nine. My vision blurs as I try to dial Mom's shop.

"Red Rock Flower Power," a cheerful voice says.

"Debbie? Can you get my mom?" My voice trembles.

Debbie's tone softens. "She's with a customer, sweetheart; hold a sec."
"It's getting on the floor." Gavin points to a drop of bright blood on the cream linoleum.

"Karma?" Mom says. "What's wrong?"

For some reason the sound of her voice causes my throat to close up, and I can't talk. I let out a squeak.

"Mom!" Gavin yells. "Karma's bleeding all over the floor!"

"Where's your father?"

"Out with a class." I'm ashamed of how my voice shakes. "Stark's a good bird. It was my fault."

"It'll take me fifteen minutes to get home. Call Aunt Amy. Lie down. Get Gavin to apply ice. You can . . ."

I don't hear the rest. The phone slips from my fingers, and I slump to the ground.

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