Badlands: a YA book about a wilderness program for troubled kids gone terribly wrong...


At 17, Jaqueline Cole’s life explodes in a flurry of family drama and bad choices.

Jaq’s Mom has a midlife crisis, her troubled older brother runs away, and out of frustration, Jaq’s Dad doubles down on his paranoid, penny-pinching, over-parenting. Jaq finally has enough. Jaqueline starts acting out. After she’s arrested for vandalism, her exasperated father makes a difficult decision, and Jaq finds herself dropped off in the middle of the Idaho Badlands with a bunch of other problem teens. Just as her feelings for one of the boys makes the whole thing seem tolerable, people start to die. As Jaq tries to stay one step ahead of the killer, wilderness survival becomes a real life-and-death ordeal that will change her life forever.

What inspired me to write this book, you may ask?

Many years ago, in a land far from where I live now, I hit 15 (or maybe it’s more accurate to say, 15 hit me). I voluntarily entered a wilderness academy in the boonies of Idaho to search my soul. I liked the idea of getting out of my negative rut by confronting and overcoming something difficult and unknown. Little did I know just how challenging it would be!

Having grown up in the California Bay Area, I was unprepared for the snow and cold of Idaho. It was almost unbearable at first! And yes, I was strip searched like the characters in my story but standing outside in the snow! 

The people I met (none of whom were murdered), and the challenges I faced in the wilderness changed the trajectory of my life.  

Our large fearless trail leader, the college intern with a heart of gold, the jock with an attitude problem, the mysterious stoner, the theatrical and funny addict, the feral girl … and me. 

The hikes were long, and the hunger never ended (we even ate a dead coyote we found in the snow one night out of desperation--it tasted like lamb). The required skills took hard work to master—I’m looking at you, bow drill fire! 

But by the end of the trip, I could do things like make fire without matches, navigate by the stars, build traps, stand barefoot in the snow, and howl with the coyotes at night. 

In case you’re wondering, the characters in this story are all based on real people—except the killer, he’s a metaphor. (I hope that readers will discern for themselves what that might be.) The character of Jaq is very different from who I was at fifteen, but she represents parts of many kids I’ve known.

I still think about the other kids who went on that journey with me through the wilderness. I hope they’re no longer stalked by their pain, anger and self-destructive behaviors. That they’ve found peace and empowerment and a way to give courage and wisdom to others who suffer.

Although nobody was actually killed on my outward-bound journey all those years ago, I like to think our troubled crew, Les Misérables, left our old selves somewhere out there to die in the badlands in order to live brighter and happier futures.

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