“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