Wilder Girls by Rory Power
Unfortunately, Wilder Girls was not the book for me but that doesn’t mean that it won’t be for you. I absolutely loved the world-building but wasn’t able to connect with the characters at all and found myself frustrated by the narrative style.
About the Book
Publisher: Delacorte Press | Release Date: July 9, 2019 | Pages: 368
Genre: Young Adult, Horror, Mystery | Format: eARC | Source: Publisher via Netgalley
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.
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Friends, I really wanted to enjoy this book more than I did and no one is more disappointed than I am. While I absolutely loved the world-building that Power crafts in her debut novel, unfortunately, I struggled to connect with any of the characters and found it difficult for me to suspend disbelief – but not for the reasons you’d think.
“Wonder what she’ll get, if it’s anything at all. Gills like Mona, blisters like Cat’s, maybe bones like Byatt’s or a hand like Reese’s, but sometimes the Tox doesn’t give you anything – just takes and takes. Leaves you drained and withering.”
Her prose is captivating and gruesome, as harsh as life has become on Raxter Island. The writing and story seem well suited for the screen, and I think I would enjoy this as a movie a lot more. Power has a vivid imagination that she is able to translate well onto the page, but there is something about the narrative flow that doesn’t work for me as a novel. It is almost as if the narrative relies heavily on foreshadowing, only it is so overt that you notice something isn’t right long before the characters uncover anything. This may be fun for some readers, but it annoyed me to no end.
“The Tox didn’t just happen to us. It happened to everything.”
I had an intensely difficult time believing the circumstances of life for the Raxter girls following the Tox, to the point that it prohibited me from ever fully being swept away by the narrative. I hesitate to point out specifics because I do not want to spoil the reading experience, but I couldn’t stop myself from asking logical questions like How are they fighting over blankets and jackets when earlier in the text it is stated that the US Navy continues to send food & clothes for the full number of girls originally on the island (even though their numbers have dwindled)? and Why are there not enough rooms when a lot of girls have died? I am not sure if some of these things are continuity errors or not, but much of what made me frustrated and roll my eyes wound up being part of the plot… which honestly wasn’t a satisfying revelation for me because it was so overtly off earlier.
“We don’t get to choose what hurts us.”
I never felt connected to any of the three main characters. They felt one-dimensional and paper-thin to me. The one I felt most believable was Reese with her hardened emotions and propensity for protecting herself from emotional pain. But when you don’t really connect with or care for any of the characters, it is difficult for you to root for their struggle in an action-packed and dangerous plot. I was more interested in the Tox itself than what was going on with the characters in the book.
The most compelling part of the story for me is omitted from the narrative. I understand that this is in large part because we learn about the disease through Hetty, and there is a lot that she doesn’t understand or uncover. But for me as a reader, the ending felt anticlimactic and reasonably there could have been another 100 pages added to the end to expand her understanding a little bit and provide some closure for the reader.
Wilder Girls is definitely a plot-driven novel, and I kept reading because Power crafted a horrifically compelling micro-dystopian world and I wanted to see the ending. How it began. Any sort of explanation, really. But the ending felt abrupt and unsatisfying to me. This is really a result of my wanting a different story than this turned out to be: I was interested more in the Tox itself than the characters. Then again, I am one of the few people that didn’t enjoy this book so please do take my experience with a grain of salt! Please check out these positive reviews from Meeghan @ Words Gremlin and Lili @ Utopia State of Mind, and Vicky’s character interview before forming your opinion on this one.
I do want to mention that while this book is sapphic, I would hesitate to call it a romance. I think some hype and early reviews may mislead some readers into thinking this book is more centered on a f/f romance that hardly exists, and I do not want people to be disappointed.
Unfortunately, Wilder Girls was not the book for me but that doesn’t mean that it won’t be for you. Being a close reader who needs things to make logical sense, I had a difficult time suspending disbelief for the dystopian circumstances on the island and it really hampered my reading experience. I know that this is an artistic choice as the book centers around Hetty’s struggle for autonomy, and through that struggle, she learns that the world isn’t what she was led to believe. This is an important story, but unfortunately for me, the execution fell flat because I couldn’t relate to the characters.
An Argument Against the “Feminist Lord of the Flies” Comparison
I don’t know who started this, but I’ve seen people call this a feminist Lord of the Flies, which has made me irrationally angry. The books are thematically different: Lord of the Flies is about the breakdown of the boys’ society when left without adult supervision; Wilder Girls is about the fight for survival in a world of food and resource scarcity during the Tox outbreak and quarantine. The girls had no choice or agency in the way life evolved on the island as they are following the lead of the Headmistress and Welch, and are waiting for the promised cure. The boys are tempted by power and the conflict between the rules of society and the impulse of “savagery.” William Golding said that Lord of the Flies came to be because he wanted “to write a story about some boys on an island showing how they would really behave being boys and not really saints as they usually are in children’s books.” [Source]
CONTENT WARNINGS: (from author’s website) Graphic violence and body horror, gore, on-page character death, parental death, and animal death (though the animals are not pets), behavior and descriptive language akin to self-harm, food scarcity and starvation, emesis, a scene depicting chemical gassing, reference to suicide and suicidal ideation, non-consensual medical treatment.
Many thanks to Delacorte Press for sending me an eARC via Netgalley for my honest review! Quotations are taken from an uncorrected proof and may change in the final publication.
Let’s go on another adventure together!