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Saving Cody

Part of Wilder Boys

About The Book

Two brothers fight to save their grandmother’s land from developers in the third “fun, fast-paced, crisp caper” (School Library Journal) of the Wilder Boys series.

When a run-in with the local bully means the boys risk losing their beloved dog, Cody, they hatch a plan to keep him safe. They’ll take him to live with their grandmother in the Sierra Nevada mountains. He’ll be safe there, and Grandma—who lives off the grid—will benefit from the companionship. But first they’ve got to figure out exactly where in the mountains she is.

Following clues left in postcards and pictures and using their keen senses of deduction and survival, they finally find her tract of land. But when they get there, they discover that a group of ill-intentioned developers is trying to bully her off her property. Do the boys have what it takes to outsmart the developers and save their grandmother’s beloved home?


Chapter 1 1
Life is good.

Even in his own head it sounded totally cheesy, fourteen-year-old Jake Wilder thought with a grin. Like something you’d see stitched on a pillow in the nearby Grand Teton National Park’s souvenir shop. Or better yet, on a bumper sticker slapped onto one of the many off-road Jeeps that passed through the area on their way to explore the rugged mountains and trails.

But it was true.

The weekend was finally here. The sky was bright blue, and the air was fresh and warm. It was the perfect spring day in Wyoming. The kind when you’re just happy to be alive and part of the natural world.

Jake and his younger brother, Taylor, were playing Frisbee in their backyard with their friend Kim. The boys had gotten home from school about an hour earlier. Even though it was a forty-five-minute bus ride along the long, winding rural roads to their house, the boys didn’t mind. They had their journals to keep them busy, and the endless scenery outside their windows to entertain them. Kim had biked over from the ranch where she worked part-time, to join the brothers.

Twelve-year-old Taylor flicked the Frisbee in Jake’s direction. It went low, and the boys’ Jack Russell terrier, Cody, bounded across the grass and snagged it between his teeth. He trotted off with it proudly, tail held high, and sat in a patch of grass.

“Hey, Cody,” Jake said, laughing. “Give that back!”

He jogged over, retrieved the Frisbee, and threw it to Kim.

Kim caught it and zipped it to Taylor.

As the three horsed around, joking and laughing, Jake could hardly believe that just last year he, Taylor, and Cody had been on the run from their mom’s abusive boyfriend, Bull, and his goons. The boys had fled Pittsburgh and traveled here to Wyoming to find their estranged father, who’d been living in a remote house in the woods. But when they had later learned that their mother was in danger, they’d set off again to save her. They’d hopped freight trains, hitched rides, and hiked through dense forest. They’d survived an avalanche, faced down coyotes, criminals—and their greatest fears.

But they’d succeeded.

Now the family was reunited, living in a National Park Service house on the edge of the majestic Grand Teton National Park. Their dad, Abe, was a park ranger. And their mom, Jennifer, happy and no longer under Bull’s thumb, worked as a legal assistant in nearby Jackson.

Yeah, life was good.

“Earth to Jake!” Kim said. Jake blinked. Kim was waving the Frisbee, trying to get his attention.

“Sorry,” he said. “Daydreaming, I guess. Did you say something?”

“Yeah!” she said. “I asked when you and Taylor were going to show me that amazing surprise of yours.” She gestured toward a big blue tarp covering something by the back shed. “You know I don’t like it when you keep secrets from me!”

Ha. Jake knew. He and Taylor had met Kim when they’d been hiking through the snowy woods on their trek back to Pittsburgh last winter. Kim had helped save Taylor from an avalanche, then had let the boys hide out in the house she shared with her mom on the Wind River Reservation. Kim had been less than happy with them when they’d tried to sneak away early one morning without telling her.

“Don’t worry, it’s a surprise, not a secret,” Taylor said, smiling.

“Okay,” Kim said. “But the suspense is killing me! I hope I don’t have to wait much longer. I only have a couple of hours till I need to get back to the ranch. Nodin won’t wait around for me, you know.”

Jake nodded. Kim, her cousin Nodin, and a few other kids from the reservation had part-time jobs at the nearby Moose Ridge Ranch. Kim caught a ride with them whenever she had a shift—and sometimes when she didn’t, so that she could bike over to the Wilder house and hang out with the boys. Once, she’d lost track of time while she, Jake, and Taylor had been hiking in the woods, and Nodin had gone home without her. Kim’s mom hadn’t been too excited to make the long drive to pick Kim up that day.

“Don’t worry,” Jake said. “I’ll get Mom and Dad.”

He jogged around the house, Cody chasing after him. The pair skidded to a stop at the front porch. The Wilder home was a modest log house with a small kitchen and living area, one bathroom, and only one real bedroom, for Jake’s parents. The boys slept in an upstairs loft area that also served as a home office for Abe.

But it might as well have been a mansion, compared to the off-the-grid home the brothers had shared with their dad last year while living in the wilderness. Here they had electricity. Running water. Even—gasp!—an internet connection. And honestly? Climbing a ladder every night to go to bed was pretty cool.

Jake called out, “Mom! Dad! Are you coming or what?”

A few moments later, the front screen door opened. Abe and Jennifer Wilder came down the porch steps, hand in hand. Jennifer was still wearing her clothes from work—dress pants and a crisp white shirt. Abe was clad, as usual, in his green park ranger uniform.

“Couldn’t even give me time to change, could you?” his mom said with a grin. Her cheeks were a healthy pink, and her long hair was twisted into a loose bun. Her blue eyes twinkled. Jake grinned back. Every day he was reminded how grateful he was that their mom was finally healthy and well, especially with everything it had taken to get to that point. Jennifer had struggled with depression in the years she’d been trapped in an abusive relationship with Bull. She deserved so much more, and Jake was glad she was back with his father and that his dad was working hard to be a better husband.

“Nope, can’t wait,” he answered. “Come on!”

Jake led his parents around back to the tarp-covered object. He and Taylor shuffled to opposite ends and each grabbed an edge of the blue canvas. With a nod, they yanked it away, revealing the large hand-carved canoe hiding beneath.

“Ta-da!” Jake said dramatically.

“Whoa,” Kim said. “That’s awesome! Did the two of you actually make this yourselves?”

Jake and Taylor beamed. “Yep!” Taylor said proudly. Taylor could whittle just about anything from a piece of wood, including the bear he’d made for Kim that she kept on her desk at home. But creating an actual canoe—capable of holding the entire family—was another thing altogether.

“Well, Dad did help us out a bit,” Jake said.

Abe ran his hand through his salt-and-pepper hair. “Just gave you some pointers, that’s all. The rest was you. And you did a mighty fine job, I might add!”

“Absolutely,” their mom said, skimming her fingers over the canoe’s edge. “I can’t believe you carved this from a single tree.”

“I know, right?” Jake said excitedly. “Isn’t it awesome?”

A few weeks ago, the boys had found a huge spruce that had fallen in a storm. With help from Abe, they’d cut a length of it, chained it to the pickup truck, and dragged it to their backyard. From there they’d set about scraping away the bark and digging out the center. Jake explained the method they’d used, which included a multistep process of lighting kindling inside the log to soften the wood so they could dig it out.

“Wow, that must have taken forever,” Kim said.

“Two weeks, four days, and um…” Taylor counted on his fingers. “Seven hours, actually.”

“I’m very impressed, boys,” Jennifer added. “It really came out beautifully.”

“Thanks!” Jake and Taylor said in unison.

“It is awesome,” Kim said. “But will it float? That’s the question!”

“Of course it will float,” Taylor said. “It’s wood. Plus we used pine tar to waterproof it.”

“What are we waiting for, then?” Kim asked. “Let’s go test it out!”

“Sounds like a good plan,” Abe said. “We can load it up in the truck and drive it over to the lake for you kids. How’s that?”

Jake, Taylor, and Kim all whooped. Cody barked excitedly and ran in circles.

“I’ll grab the life jackets from the shed,” Jennifer said. “Safety first!”

As their mom headed into the shed, she cast a glance back at Jake. “Hey, buddy? I picked up the mail on my way home from work, and it’s sitting on the front seat. Do you mind running it inside for me before we head out?”

“No problem, Mom,” Jake answered. He jogged to the driveway and grabbed the stack of letters. As he carried it into the house, he recognized his grandmother’s distinct loopy handwriting on the top envelope. He stared at it, wondering what was inside. His grandmother’s letters were often long and filled with drawings and random observations. But Jake loved getting them because one thing they weren’t was boring.

The same could be said of Joanna Wilder herself.

Even though Jake had few memories of his grandmother, he knew she lived way off the grid in a cabin she’d built herself in the Sierra Nevada mountains of California. She’d moved to the mountains nearly eight years ago, not long after Jake’s grandfather had passed away. Abe Wilder hadn’t been happy about the move. At all. And he hadn’t hesitated to share his opinion that his mother was too old to live out in the wilderness alone.

Grandma Wilder hadn’t hesitated to let her son know she didn’t need his opinion, and who was he calling old, anyway? She was a grown woman and wouldn’t be told what to do by someone she’d potty trained, thank you very much.

It had only gotten worse from there, as Joanna and Abe Wilder had both dug in their very stubborn heels about the matter. Some shouting ensued. Words were spoken. The sort that weren’t so easy to take back.

After that, Grandma Wilder and Jake’s dad had stopped speaking to each other entirely. Jake wasn’t sure anymore if the image he had of a free-spirited, gray-haired woman who loved nature was his own memory or if the image had been formed after he’d Googled “Grandma Wilder” earlier this year and discovered her profile at the small California gallery that sold her artwork—beautiful paintings of the colorful flora and fauna of her mountain home.

Whatever the case, it had made Jake sad that she’d fallen out of their lives.

So, without telling anyone, he’d decided to contact her. He’d emailed a short note to the gallery with his phone number and address, unsure if or when it would reach his grandmother.

A month later, a postcard emblazoned with the rugged snowcapped peaks of the Sierra Nevadas had arrived in the mail. It hadn’t contained an apology. Or even a mention of Jake’s email. Just a brief update:

Dear family,

What a winter! You’ve never seen so much snow. Nearly sunk to my chest hiking down to the road last week. Now, that was something. Good thing I always keep a folding shovel in my backpack. How are those boys doing anyway? Would love a picture. Bet they’ve grown. That’s all for now. Got to get some ice fishing in before the sun sets.

Love to all.

This is how they started exchanging letters.

Abe and Jennifer wrote to her about their jobs and the wild landscape of Wyoming, while the boys filled her in on their school, local birds, and their other interests. For her part, Grandma wrote eloquently about the details of her life, the birds and wildlife, and the serenity of her remote home. She included drawings, and quite often small gifts for her grandsons—a cool polished rock she’d found, a colorful feather, a handmade leather bookmark. (Jake’s prized possession. He loved to read.)

Lately, though, Grandma Wilder had been writing about things that didn’t make much sense. People who were after her. Strange noises in the night. At least that’s what Jake had figured out. His dad was always quick to put those letters away before Jake or Taylor had the chance to see them.

But more than once Jake had overheard his parents talking in hushed voices after the boys had gone to bed, worried that perhaps his grandmother was beginning to get confused. I don’t think anyone is actually blocking her road with trees or sneaking around her house, Jake had heard his mother say with concern. Maybe it’s time she came to live with us? She’s getting older, Abe. She can’t keep living like this….

Jake’s dad had reluctantly agreed and said he would try. But he didn’t think they’d ever convince his stubborn and proud mother to give up her independent life. Didn’t she remember what had happened when he’d tried to tell his mother this last time? They’d stopped talking for eight years.

Jake climbed the ladder to the loft now. He dropped the mail onto his dad’s desk, then rejoined the family back outside. Abe and Taylor were loading the canoe into the back of the truck. Kim was on the phone.

“Yes, Mom,” Kim said with a sigh. “I’m sorry I forgot to text when I got here. No, I won’t bike back to the ranch in the dark.” She sighed again. “And no, I won’t miss my ride home. Love you too. Bye.” She hung up and rolled her eyes.

“You good?” Jake asked.

“Yep,” Kim said. “You know my mom. Always checking up on me.”

Jennifer loaded a stack of orange life vests into the truck. “Thanks for bringing in the mail,” she said with a nod to Jake.

“No problem, Mom. Did you see the letter from Grandma?” he asked, then hesitated. “It was a big one.”

Jake waited to see what his mom or dad would say. They stayed quiet but gave each other concerned looks. That was all the confirmation Jake needed. They were worried about her. He couldn’t help but be a little worried about his grandmother too.

“Hey!” Taylor piped up. “We should send Grandma a picture of our canoe. I bet she’d love to see it! Can you take one, Mom?”

Jake shook his head.

“What do you mean, no?” Taylor frowned.

“I mean, we can’t send her a picture of our canoe sitting in the back of a truck,” Jake said. “We need to put it in the water first!”

“Ah, right,” Taylor said. “What are we waiting for, then? Let’s get to the lake!”

About The Author

Trekking solo across the remotest corners of Wyoming and Montana as a young man, Brandon Wallace learned how to survive the hard way in the harshest conditions nature could throw at him. Having spent the subsequent two decades as a trail leader, passing on his knowledge to a generation of budding adventurers, he turned his hand to fictionalizing his experiences, and the Wilder Boys series was born.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Aladdin (January 3, 2023)
  • Length: 208 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781665916622
  • Grades: 3 - 7
  • Ages: 8 - 12
  • Lexile ® 630L The Lexile reading levels have been certified by the Lexile developer, MetaMetrics®

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Raves and Reviews

"The strength’s in the journey—survival skills and environmentalism—not the destination."

Kirkus Reviews

"The strength’s in the journey—survival skills and environmentalism—not the destination."

Kirkus Reviews

"A fun, fast-paced, crisp caper for wilderness lovers and curious homebodies alike."

School Library Journal

Awards and Honors

  • Kansas NEA Reading Circle List Junior Title

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More books in this series: Wilder Boys