Wilder Girls, by Rory Power
Publish Date: July 9, 2019
Published by: Delacorte Press
Genre: YA Contemporary/Sci-Fi
My Rating: ★☆☆☆☆ (1 out of 5 stars)
**I received an ARC of this as a bookseller in anticipation of the August YA Book Club, as well as an egalley through Edelweiss in return for an honest review**
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.
This book was kind of horrifying to be honest. I felt like a lot of the time I didn’t know what I was reading. It was fast-paced but strange, full of questions and unending mysteries that I felt like the characters were never closer to solving. The writing style was a little all over the place, with a beginning that was almost difficult to understand. It is also riddled with moments and scenes that could be extremely triggering for some people (see list at the end of review). Part of me wanted to like this book, but a larger part of me just spent it going “WTF?” the entire time I was reading it. It’s one of those books that I think could be right up some peoples’ alleys, but definitely not mine.
To begin with – the writing style. The first words on the page are distorted, sharp and confusing. It’s like trying to describe a collage rather than a scene. Only bits and pieces and I had to puzzle it all together to rfigure out what the bigger picture might be. Slowly the writing style got better and easier to follow, more of a narrative than some strange attempt at prose. But just when I got the hang of it we shifted perspectives from Hetty to Byatt and it was a new struggle all over again. I think I got what the author was going for, trying to really get into the girls’ mindsets, but I just don’t know if I cared for it entirely. I will say the descriptions were very explicit – as in, [SPOILER] no I did not need to know every single detail about what it takes to rip the still-beating heart out of someone’s chest with a dull knife. Thanks for that nightmare of a scene, by the way.[END SPOILER]
The plot was riddled with mysteries and questions and what felt like next-to-n0 answers (and the ones that did finally show up in the end only felt half-formed and left me feeling even more confused). But what I hated more than anything was how, when presented with a clue or a circumstance when some more information could be given, Hetty seemed to just go “whatever” and focus on her own personal problems. No. This is when you press for more information. It was so frustrating to see her just let everything important be washed over because she decided “what’s the point.” I just couldn’t stand it.
The over-arcing mystery also kind of felt like a let-down to be honest. When the answer finally came as to what was causing the Tox, I was actually a little disappointed and annoyed. With all the secrets being kept by the two adults and the way the CDC and Navy were treating the girls, I thought there was something more sinister about it all but there really wasn’t. It was all this lead up for there being something more to this illness only for it to be just that. I guess what I’m saying is, the foreshadowing didn’t match the shadow. It was pointing in one direction but the answer was actually in another. I mean, if there had been more clues pointing in that direction, then yeah I think I would have been on board with it, but because it felt like “yeah that’s it” I was just kind of annoyed. There were also a lot of plotholes that were left unanswered by the end (I still don’t know what Taylor’s deal was) and just so many half-formed answers that it didn’t feel conclusive. The ending does feel like there is going to be a sequel, though, but it still left me frustrated to no end.
As for the characters, I was not impressed. Hetty is focused on one thing – her girls, Byatt and Reese. She is tough and determined, sure, but she is also extremely reliant on Byatt and constantly acts as though she never existed before they met. She lets far too much wash over her – as I said before with all the information she kind of ignores in favor of thinking about her girls and herself. But she then does feel guilt over the things that occur because of her choices; however, she still chooses herself and her girls over everyone else. I actually kind of hated her by the end for one decision in particular that she made. She was just unlikeable. In fact all three kind of were.
Byatt is a pathalogical liar (which we don’t find out until her perspective) and does something with horrifying results and that was absolutely unnecessary, which could have easily been avoided, all because she wanted to. But also it led to repercussions that affected the rest of the plot so obviously it had to happen. Honestly, it was kind of a poor character choice and one that didn’t feel like it made sense considering how she had acted before. It was just an excuse to make other things happen in the plot to lead to the climax.
And finally there is Reese, the love interest who for the first half of the book is just an angry porcupine it seems like. Obviously there is some backstory to her prickliness – mainly that her mother abandoned her and her father was scared of what the Tox was turning him into so he left too. She gets angry and violent easily, is cold and distant towards Hetty and Byatt even though they’re her closest friends, and yet Hetty still has a crush on her. Oh, but once they do finally kiss suddenly she becomes almost an actual person. She still has her ups and downs, but there are moments in the second half when she is comforting Hetty and it felt so weird and out of character in comparison to her earlier behavior. I just didn’t like her very much and didn’t see what Hetty liked so much about a girl whose usual facial expression was a glare.
I just did not like this book. I hated the characters, was overly frustrated with the way the mystery of the Tox was handled, despised the use of adult characters who kept information to themselves, and was honestly disturbed and disgusted by several of the scenes. It’s definitely an “unreliable narrator” sort of story, but one where the unreliable narrator also refuses to actually ask the questions that needed asking. Apparently other people seem to like it though according to the reviews, and I guess I could see some people enjoying it, but I just did not.
TRIGGER WARNINGS: This book contains mention of suicide, on-page suicide, gruesome deaths, self-harm, blood, and a gassing scene.