Wild is in the name and it is certainly fitting for this book about friendship, humanity, but ultimately survival. I was absolutely engrossed in each and every twisting page of Rory Power’s novel about a quarantined Boarding School that has been struck by an unnerving virus.
The book opens from the first person perspective of Hetty, and begins with everything already in motion; in that the virus, named The Tox, is already established and has already wrecked havoc within the school causing major illnesses and death. It becomes clear that the island that is home to the Boarding School has been abandoned and the girls are instructed to wait for a cure and must remain in quarantine. What I really loved about this was how matter of fact it seemed for the characters and how they just laid everything bare for the reader to see. Usually when there is a storyline about a virus; the outbreak is the big shocking event that the plot leads up to, whereas here it had already happened. The fact that Hetty spoke so offhandedly about it really vocalised how much the character’s have had to adapt to survive. The rest of the book really solidifies this and it really tests the girl’s to their limits to see how far they are willing to go in order to live.
That’s what really struck home about this book for me personally. It felt like the farther I got into the book the more wild I became; as if I truly were on this journey with them. The brutal imagery and even weirdly gross descriptions were shocking and unexpected for a YA but made it all the more intriguing. I could feel the need to survive, and to adapt. There were some moments where I felt like I didn’t get all the answers I craved (especially in regard to The Tox itself) but in retrospect I don’t think I needed them. I was left in the same boat as Hetty, Reese, and Byatt; uncertain and reeling. Hetty came to the conclusion that she didn’t really need to know how it had happened to them; just that it did and in some weird ways it brought them closer together. Similarly with Byatt who at times acted as though she didn’t want a cure, knew that this event had changed the girls not just physically. I was really intrigued by her and as it emerged she was more morally grey of a character I enjoyed her even more. I think its very easy to make characters seem nice and angelic when something bad happens to them so that the event seems undeserving, but in Byatt’s case it was all the more affirming that it could be anyone and despite her questionable attributes; Hetty and Reese would have done anything for her proving that friendship, and loyalty really drives this novel.
Another aspect of this novel that I truly loved was the fact that it was LGBTQ+ but also that it was done naturally. Having Reese as a queer character didn’t feel as though it was done to add diversity for the sake of diversity but to further the dynamics and layers created what this story aimed to tell; what people would or wouldn’t do for those they truly care for. I didn’t once feel like the romance was detracting from the narrative or the plot in any way, but that it just so happened to be a side plot that felt natural, empathetic, and truly representative. I think there are some key scenes that showcase this which include Reese’s father, boatshift, and the ending as a whole because it also demonstrates that YA romance isn’t always fluffy and easy but that its hard and that actions have consequences; especially in a world were survival is your priority.
Wilder Girls was truly unique. I particularly loved the descriptions (although sometimes quite graphic) about how the Tox changed these girls; the bloody sores, the second spine, the sealed eye, and the silver hand, were all nontypical and refreshingly different to read about. They weren’t pretty; they were brutal and honest. The only real issue I had with this book was sometimes the writing style, although done purposefully to reflect the characters not being coherent, was slightly stunting and awkward to read. I think this was primarily down to the fact that it was first person but once I got into the story I didn’t notice it all that much and was able to get past it.
This book was actually a buddy read with my wonderful friend Lauren, who you can find on Bookstragram as LittleBookishFairy. We actually demolished this book reading over half of it in one sitting while frantically messaging each other at 1am. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it with her and talking through all our theories together because it is a book that keeps you wondering why in the back of your mind. I would definitely recommend Wilder Girls for a feminist, well represented, and interesting read that is different to the norm. Its intriguing, fast paced, and really makes you think about survival and friendship.