Janet Shepperson’s debut novel Vinny’s Wilderness is a beautiful book about friendship, childhood innocence, and the effect nature has on us and how we feel.

Vinny’s Wilderness begins with Vinny, a divorced teacher, coming home to find her beautiful, overgrown garden being demolished. She has no idea why or who is responsible, and almost too distraught to think clearly. As she sits back and grieves the loss of her wilderness, she thinks back over the past four months and all that’s happened.

Four months previous, Vinny started coaching Denzil, a young boy under a lot of pressure from his father to do well in his exams and get into a good school. Vinny quickly realises that although Denzil is bright, he’s not going to get a high enough grade to satisfy his father. Vinny also discovers that Denzil’s mother is a familiar face from her childhood, and a friendship quickly blossoms as they discuss everything from the past to present problems with motherhood, relationships, and the class differences between them.

The contrast between their friendship and the friendship of Denzil and Vinny’s daughter, Roisin,2 was excellently written. The similarities and differences between the two friendships, such as worries about exams, different upbringings, and different attitudes, are very well portrayed and make a very enjoyable story.

Vinny’s Wilderness is set in Belfast, and although there are references to past violence and the Troubles, it’s not a big part of the plot. Shepperson’s beautiful imagery, combined with the colloquial language used by the characters, really allows the story to flow.

The order of the story – the beginning scene, then the recap of the past four months till the story caught up with the beginning scene – worked well too, though the perspective change that accompanied it felt awkward in the last scene.

Overall, it was a quick, enjoyable read, with beautiful imagery and a well-written, engaging story.