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!
Lily @ Sprinkles of Dreams says
Oh no, I’m so sorry you didn’t enjoy this as much as everyone else, Kal! I’ve heard everyone gush about it, and I was very excited about it myself, what with it being marketed as feminist, above all.
I hope your next read is better!! <3
I am so sad about not liking this book! I hope you love it as much as everyone else does, love!
I love your honest review. I am still planning on reading this at some point😁
Thank you, and I hope you enjoy the book more than I did! Looking forward to your thoughts when you get to the book.
Jenn @ the Bibliofile says
what a fantastic review — I’m disappointed that this isn’t what I’d hoped it would be but it’s good to know
Thank you so much, Jenn. The book’s reviews have been overwhelmingly positive so far, take my experience with a grain of salt if this one sounds interesting to you!
I am sorry you didn’t like this one!
I however like this review and I have been meaning to avoid this and this just confirmed that I should do so!
I can’t read a book if the characters are flat and too much foreshadowing ruins it for me too!
I think you would probably have a similar reading experience, so for you I would advocate avoiding this one. Thanks for reading, Hamad!
Welcome and I will avoid it 😀
I like how honestly you reviewed this! it sounds like the author had a lot of good ideas but struggled with clear execution. It happens! You are a better reviewer than I am, I wouldn’t have finished the book.
a group of women fighting for survival in a post apocalyptic world – try Nicole Kornher-Stace’s Archivist Wasp books.
I have no qualms in DNFing a book, but was interested in the Tox enough to want to read to the end for answers. I just… didn’t get any. But that wasn’t the story the author was telling, so I can’t fault her for it!
Thanks for the rec!
Isabelle @ BookwyrmBites says
idk why it’s taken this long but reading your review, it suddenly hit me that Wilder Girls has been giving me Sawkill Girls vibes – horror, girl-centered, set on an island, and highly hyped. but I didn’t connect with Sawkill Girls, and I’m really hoping to like Wilder Girls more 🤞
all the points you bring up are definitely good to know going on, I also need to connect with the characters to really enjoy a story – so I may need to adjust my expectations accordingly. and even just based on the synopsis this definitely doesn’t sound anything like LOTF, so thank you for pointing it out!
Huh, I hadn’t made the connection either! Sawkill Girls is on my owned tbr and I don’t know when I will get to it. I hope you enjoy Wilder Girls more than I did, my experience seems to be in the minority — a lot of my friends loved the characters. So I just wasn’t the right reader for this one.
Kait @ kaitlyngosia.co says
OOOOFFF, Wilder Girls was one of the books that ran out almost immediately at ALA, I’m sorry to hear you didn’t like it! I hate it when characters fall flat since they’re literally the only reasons I continue a book!
Take my reading experience with a grain of salt; my friends that read and loved the book had the complete opposite experience to me, and even loved the characters. I hope you enjoy it if you decide to pick this one up!
Kat @ Novels & Waffles says
Oh no! I’m so sorry that this book didn’t do it for you 🙁 I’ve seen it hyped up quite a bit, so it’s always extra sad when those books fail to live up to the expectations. But I would have to agree with you – when I can’t connect with the characters, then it really makes it hard to continue on in the story.
I AM SO SAD! But honestly, if this is a book that sounds interesting to you do give it a try because my experience is in the minority. I don’t mind not connecting to the characters when it’s a good plot-driven story, but this one is meant to be about the girls and not the Tox. Just not for me.
A lovely review, Kal! I am sorry you did not love it as much as you expected. This book is on my TBR and I will definitely keep the points you mentioned in mind when I read this! 💛
Thank you, Krisha, and I hope you love the book when you get to it!
This was a well-thought out review. I will adjust my expectations going in. I think I would have expected a character-driven narrative from a story like this. I saw it labeled as horror, which I imagine it has those elements, but it sounds like it’s more dystopian with a touch of fantasy? I don’t think this will be for me at this point in time. It does sound interesting, so I’ll check it out from the library when I want to try it. Thanks again for your thoughts.
I agree that it definitely feels dystopian, but there definitely is horror too! I think the story is character-driven, I just personally didn’t connect with them. I hope you do enjoy the book more than I did when you do get around to reading it!
I find myself able to like a story regardless of characters, IF the plot grabs me enough, but the things you mentioned about the clothes/jackets and rooms will probably bother me lol. I loved how honest you are, and I can’t wait to read it and see how my experience stacks against yours, for a moment I forget this wasn’t Sawkill Girls, maybe it’s because I keep seeing them thrown together lol
I am with you — I have been known to LOVE a plot-driven story in spire of the characters, but I really think this one is meant to be about the girls. You are the second person to mention the Sawkill connections, which has me a little intrigued hahah. I hope you love Wilder Girls, can’t wait to hear your thoughts!
It’s always tough for me to enjoy a book when I can’t connect to the characters, totally feel you on that one. Hope the next read is a bit better for you!
Me too; if the book is plot-driven I can often get past it, but this one is meant to be character-driven so it just didn’t work for me. 🙁
Destiny @ Howling Libraries says
Amazing review, friend! <3 I'm sorry you didn't love this one, though. I'm maybe 30% into it and I can never seem to make myself read more than a few pages at a time, despite having been VERY slowly chipping at it for… almost two months, I think?! Like you, I don't care about the characters, I just want more information about the Tox. :/ Also, this:
"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."
This is starting to come into play big time at the point of the book I'm in, and it's bothering me SO MUCH.
I am so sorry I didn’t love this one either, but it makes me feel a lot better that you also are struggling? Like, I’m sorry but I have felt so alone in my corner lol!
It’s hard because the world is SO INTERESTING, but the story I wanted to read (about the Tox) wasn’t the one Power was telling. I hope you wind up enjoying the book a bit more than I did.
Kelly | Another Book in the Wall says
Fantastic, well-written review, Kaleena! I’m sorry that this one wasn’t your favorite. From what you’ve said, those do sound like very logical and reasonable questions. It sounds like some of those problems could be continuity errors. Not being able to connect with characters is often a huge concern of mine when I read books, so I’ll have to think about whether or not this one is for me. Thanks again for such a lovely review! <3
Thank you so much, Kelly! I was really sad about the book not being for me, but I am so happy to see so many people loving it! Take my inability to connect with the characters with a grain of salt; many other reviews said the opposite. It really is true what they say that no two readers read the same book!