Study Guide

The Wild Children Fear

By Felice Holman


Chapter 1

At first, he didn't really know where he was going; he just had to get away from the house before the secret police returned. (1.16)

Now that his family has been kidnapped, Alex has good reason to be scared. He knows the government isn't just going to turn a blind eye toward him once they figure out that he's escaped—they're going to hunt him down. Gulp.

People had been disappearing for months, years now, yet none dared talk about it except in the privacy of their homes with the curtains drawn. (1.5)

The Soviet government uses fear to control its citizens. Sadly, it works really well: Everyone is so scared of the government that they don't even want to talk about it. After all, you never know who might be a government agent in disguise just waiting to turn you in.

The truth of the morning had been frightening, but blank, shapeless. Now he felt the cold fear all over again, but stronger. (1.31)

Most of the time, Alex is able to control his fear by focusing on his plans for the future. It's a good strategy, but it isn't long until his fear becomes so overwhelming that he can't avoid it anymore. So what's he supposed to do now?

Katriana Sergyeva

"We don't even know who or what to fear, and so we fear everyone and everything." (1.65)

Katriana expresses this idea better than we ever could. Hmm… maybe she should be the one writing for Shmoop. Jokes aside, this is the perfect description of the way that fear works in the Soviet Union.

Chapter 2

Alex reached for his school bag to get some bread […] Gone! […] A moment of panic and terror, tears close to his eyes. (2.24)

Gee willikers, things just keep getting worse. Alex was able to keep his fear under control when he was with Katriana, but he's completely lost now that he's on his own. It's going to be a tough road from here on out.

Chapter 3

The boy's rough appearance and manner frightened him, but the invitation to food was too much to resist. (3.48)

Peter comes from the streets, so it makes sense that he intimidates a geeky kid like Alex at first. But—perhaps for the first time—Alex manages to keep his fear under control and make the right choice. Hey, it's a start.

Chapter 5

Alex was frightened. This was a bully far worse than any he had met in school, and there had been some. (5.9)

Boris is also an intimidating figure, but he doesn't have a warm-and-fuzzy interior like Peter. To be honest, Alex is probably right to be frightened of this surly fellow, as Boris ends up betraying the group in the cruelest possible way.

Chapter 6

And yet, this had become something he was familiar with. He didn't know what was out there in the streets. Worse, he feared he did now. (6.1)

Though Alex was scared of Peter and his lost boys at first, he eventually comes to trust them like best friends. So why would he give that up to take his chances on the streets? After all, based on everything that Peter says, the other gangs make the Baker's Band look like the cast of Sesame Street.

Kostia posted himself outside while Alex, his heart beating fast in his chest, accompanied Ivan into the shop. (6.15)

Understandably, Alex gets the jitters right before he takes part in his first theft, though this is a far cry from the abject terror he felt just days before. If anything, it's the support of Peter and his posse that allows Alex to grow some courage.

Chapter 9

Alex found a blank when he tried to think ahead […] Between now and the future there hung a great dark curtain that he could not see through or around. (9.23)

There are two ways that you can take this statement. First, you can see this as a reason to be terrified, since there's nothing scarier than not knowing what's coming ahead. But you could also take this as a reason to be brave—if the future isn't set in stone, it's up to you to create it.

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