Reviews

Wilder Girls

“We don’t get to choose what hurts us.”

It’s been eighteen months since the Raxter School for Girls was put under quarantine. Since the Tox hit and pulled Hetty’s life out from under her.

It started slow. First the teachers died one by one. Then it began to infect the students, turning their bodies strange and foreign. Now, cut off from the rest of the world and left to fend for themselves on their island home, the girls don’t dare wander outside the school’s fence, where the Tox has made the woods wild and dangerous. They wait for the cure they were promised as the Tox seeps into everything.

But when Byatt goes missing, Hetty will do anything to find her, even if it means breaking quarantine and braving the horrors that lie beyond the fence. And when she does, Hetty learns that there’s more to their story, to their life at Raxter, than she could have ever thought true. (Goodreads)


“Did I like this??” That is the question I’ve been asking myself since I finished Wilder Girls by Rory Power. There is a lot to consider, despite this little book’s size and I had a very interesting journey while reading it. I went back and forth on this question for almost all of the book before finally deciding…it just wasn’t for me.

First, let me say that there is a lot to appreciate in this book. The atmosphere and descriptive world-building were strange and beautiful, the characters were tough, Queer, young women, even the element of “wtf?” suspense in this novel were wonderfully enjoyable. For a debut novel, this was so creative and original and I genuinely look forward to seeing what else Power writes in the coming years.

But for me personally…this was a big miss. And because my expectations were so high, also a big disappointment. To be fair, some of that is my doing, so I don’t completely blame Wilder Girls for this review, but I wanted to like it so much that it’s still a bummer.

I came to Wilder Girls knowing almost nothing about it except for the synopsis and that it was widely anticipated. I was one of those anticipators! As it turns out, there was one fact that would have been very helpful for me to know about this book before I read it: It’s a semi-retelling of William Golding’s Lord of the Flies. Now, there is absolutely nothing wrong with this, unless you’re like me and you hated Lord of the Flies. The ugliness and brutality, in both character and style, just never felt like stress-free entertainment to me, and Wilder Girls felt the same in some ways. My feelings throughout this book made a lot more sense to me when I learned that fact.

I can’t hold a book accountable JUST because I hated its inspiratory predecessor, but it didn’t help things for Wilder Girls. There was something about the emotional style of this book that held me up more than anything else. I don’t know if it was unintentional or a choice by the author, but for most of the book I felt as if I were a cool, casual observer to what was going on. Instead of enmeshed and engaged and actively feeling. I tend to read with my emotions first, so this kind of style gets tiring very quickly. I wanted to feel more and be sucked further into this world, of which there was so much to explore, but for most of the book I felt kept at arms’ length.

This cool, almost detached perspective against the backdrop of this wild, organic, ugly, beautiful world did have its fascinating moments. The bizarre speculative science and mutations in this story also felt somewhat reminiscent of Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer, another organic science thriller I read this year. If you liked the Southern Reach trilogy, you may enjoy this YA take on a similar vibe.

Overall, there were a few other struggles for me in Wilder girls: I didn’t click well with the characters, I didn’t understand some of their motivations, and it was often kinda gross. But I could’ve lived with all of that, especially balanced with the book’s positives, if it weren’t for the ending. I’ll try to say as little as possible, which is really hard when reviewing endings, but it didn’t work for me. It almost felt like a sci-fi dystopian “slice of life” novel, in that I did not get any of the answers I wanted. I like answers.

In the end, I’m glad that I read Wilder Girls. Whatever struggles I had, I always wanted to know what was going to happen next. I’m still left wanting to know. I started this one with big expectations and, sure, it let me down. But I also think this is a beautiful, little novel in its own– weird, gross way. Wilder Girls was gritty, dark, bizarre, and wildly creative for all of its more grisly flaws. Read it for yourself and decide.

I want to know what YOU thought of Wilder Girls!

Did you know it was a retelling? Did you like the open end? What did you think of the book??

Leave me a comment letting me know

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Reviews

On the Come Up

“When I was little I used to stand in front of mirrors with hairbrushes and imagine crowds chanting my name. But I don’t think I could have ever imagined this feeling.”

On the Come Up follows sixteen-year-old Bri, who wants to be one of the Greatest Rappers of All Time, as she navigates a lot of tough issues in her own life and fights to follow her dreams.

Her late father, who was an underground rap sensation, left big shoes to fill and Bri isn’t sure that they fit her. Her mother, who tries so hard, just lost her job and can’t get food stamps without dropping out of school. Bri dreams of not only being able to make it big, but also to provide for her family.

After she’s persecuted at school by a security guard, Bri turns her fury into a song and gets the chance to put her truth into the world. What she finds is that not everyone in the world likes what you have to say, or that she’s the one saying it, and that they make decisions about who she is because of it. Between trying to battle the stereotypes being placed on her, the pressure to embrace a new image that doesn’t fit, and navigating her way through both good and horrible advice, Bri manages to still create something astounding: herself. (And some badass music.)

I already loved Angie Thomas from her debut novel THUG (The Hate You Give) and I only love her writing more now than I did before. On the Come Up is a new book, a different book, from its predecessor but a hit all the same. I loved so many things about On the Come Up that it’s hard to name them all.

Bri was such a relatable character and I loved her voice! She’s not the easiest to love, and I think that’s why I liked her so much. She’s human and authentic, especially for a teen. She’s moody, angry, and impulsive sometimes, but also loving, protective, and strong. She expresses herself without any apology and I both enjoyed reading her character and aspire to be more like that some days.

Another aspect of this book that I loved was how Thomas portrayed Bri’s family life. Her brother is an interesting and strong character for her to lean on, and Bri’s mother was an entirely empathetic character to me. I wanted her, and her family, to succeed so badly! Bri learns a lot about her mom throughout the book which I enjoyed watching unfold, especially with how human and real her discoveries were. She’s always known that her mom is a recovered addict and yet she starts to see that its a struggle her mother has to fight daily. She sees her mother give up her school when its the only way to qualify for food stamps and realizes just how many sacrifices she has made to take care of them. At the end they both see each other in a new and different light, and I loved watching that transformation through Bri’s eyes.

Like THUG, her debut novel, Thomas is able to speak to a lot of important truths in this book. I felt Bri’s pain and anger every time her family had to scrape for bills or her school security guards targeted black and latinx students or her aunt got arrested. But then again— Bri would probably hate that I just said all that. She suffers no pity or sympathy. She takes all of her fear and fury and love and channels into her music, which was a phenomenal piece of this beautiful story. I love how she turned to her music every time she needed to be heard. Bri’s rhymes are poetry and truth, and unapologetically herself.

Thomas’ examination of the double standards and various pitfalls for women, especially a young black woman, in the rap industry (and the world) also felt vital to this story. After Bri releases her song, she quickly finds out that people who don’t know her are making assumptions about her being dangerous and irreverent because of her age, lyrics, and skin color. She’s targeted by the Crowns (a local gang) and by the media who vilify her and her song. She goes on to release a video for the song, demonstrating that her lyrics about guns and rage against authority are in response to a personal persecution in a trend of persecution among people like her. She tries to make her message clear, but it only brings her more hate from outside. Thomas does a wonderful job of examining the hypocrisy of a white journalist arguing against rap being “unsafe for kids” because of lyrics about guns and violence, without trying to understand or support the communities in which there are actual children who need that safety. It felt important that Thomas wrote about Bri’s struggles to say certain things in her lyrics that are never questioned when men are rapping, but questioned for her all the time. It felt important that Thomas, and Bri, used this platform to not just talk about important issues but to express how these struggles made them feel and celebrate the people who fight them every day.

On the Come Up was insightful, full of heart, and unafraid. It’s a wonderful story about a girl so many of us can relate to fighting hard to follow her dreams even when the odds are against her. It’s a story about how freedom of speech is not always free, depending on who you are. It’s a story about music and how it can connect us to new and deeper parts of ourselves. It’s a story about family and love and community. And most of all it is an ode, a love letter, to hip hop. I enjoyed every word.

Gift. One word, one syllable. I don’t know if it rhymes with anything because it’s a word I never thought could be used when it comes to me.

Reviews

The Song of Achilles

“Name one hero who was happy.” said Achilles. “You can’t.

“I can’t.

“I know. They never let you be famous and happy.” He lifted an eyebrow. “I’ll tell you a secret.

“Tell me.” I loved it when he was like this.

“I’m going to be the first.” He took my palm and held it to his. “Swear it.

“Why me?

“Because you’re the reason. Swear it.

“I swear.

Set in Greece in the Age of Heroes, The Song of Achilles starts as a retelling of Homer’s The Iliad, and then transforms into something wholly new and unique.

When Patroclus, an insecure young prince from a neighboring court, is exiled, he arrives at the court of King Peleus and meets the King’s perfect son, Achilles. Achilles is everything the stories said he would be: strong, brilliant, and beloved. As their relationship deepens, Patroclus begins to see another side of Achilles too that the stories don’t sing of: his humor, his gentleness, his boyish charm.

But then sources bring news that Helen of Sparta has been kidnapped. Achilles and his father’s armies are sent off to war and Patroclus, balancing between love and fear, goes with him. Neither of them realize that the next years in Troy will hold battles, victories, enemies, and brutal defeats, with an all too inevitable end.

A lot of us had to read the Iliad in school, and a lot of us struggled, let’s just be real.

For most of my life I’ve personally found Achilles to be a somewhat unsympathetic archetype: the strong, handsome, brave warrior who sits above everyone else because he is so great on the battlefield. For some reason this archetype never appealed to me: it’s too perfect. Like Superman, there was always something off-putting for me about such inherent perfection. Even the battle of Troy, fought over a woman, seemed ludicrous to me. And yet I never wondered if perhaps the characters in the story felt the same way. After reading The Song of Achilles, I will never be able to see its characters in the same way that I used to, and it is a beautiful, wonderful thing.

This book was so hyped by the time that I read it that I was worried it would hurt my opinion of it. It didn’t. The Song of Achilles was heartbreaking and powerful, violent and profound, and utterly, all-consumingly, inevitably tragic.

Seen through Patroclus’ eyes, and Miller’s writing, it’s impossible not to see the stark humanity in the characters that make up this story. Patroclus does us the favor of seeing the best in Achilles, and in seeing the parts of him that the stories he’s heard so often didn’t tell him about. Miller’s story traces their growing friendship and eventual romance through exile, angry goddesses and war, and the singular focus on their relationship through everything is the melody I can’t get out of my head. I wanted so badly for them to be happy.

The way she writes characters and relationships is to be commended. The old adage “show, don’t tell” is clearly something that Miller has mastered, and the results are something beautiful. The way she conveys feeling and especially the main characters’ relationship, without ever specifically naming them, makes the story feel visceral and personal, like it comes from within instead of from the book front of you. I loved Achilles and Patroclus like they were alive, and I hated Thetis and Agamemnon as if they had personally wronged me. There’s something alive and tangible about every character, every place, every wound, and every heartbreak.

Madeline Miller does something spectacular in The Song of Achilles, which is to honor the original story while also adding layers and layers of meaning and emotion. Miller is exceptional at creatively filling in the blanks with pieces of story that feel like they were always meant to be there. Her writing is elegant and simple, calling back to a way of writing that almost sounds like a song or a fairytale. Her words a new light on an old story, making it seem fresh and heartbreaking anew.

“We were like gods, at the dawning of the world, and our joy was so bright we could see nothing else but the other.”