Saturday, June 29, 2019

Review: Wilder Girls by Rory Power

Wilder Girls
Wilder Girls by Rory Power
Delacorte Press
Publication: July 9th, 2019
Hardcover. 368 pages.

About Wilder Girls:

"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."

Wilder Girls is a book that comes at you hard and doesn't really let up until the very last page. It has a premise that immediately hooks you in and makes it impossible to put down until you figure out what exactly is going on and what the 'Tox' is. However, I have to admit, I wasn't as enamored with this book as I had hoped to be. This was still an enjoyable and compelling read, but I had quite a few reservations while reading it as well. It has all the makings of an unforgettable, dramatic story--and it was certainly an well-written and exciting story--but the execution was a bit hit or miss for me at times.

The first thing that I loved about this book was the setting itself, which is an isolated girls' boarding school off the coast that is now under quarantine due to a mysterious illness that has broken out and taken over both the girls at the school and the island on which the school rests. This was an eerie, unpredictable, and rather horrifying at times setting that really set the tone for this equally eerie story. The mysterious Tox disease that has overtaken this island and all of its inhabitants is just as eerie and mysterious as the setting involved and manifests itself in strange body modifications of people: some girls seem to be growing gills, others have claws, two hearts, or even completely unidentifiable symptoms that come on with little to no warning and can be extremely severe. In addition to the girls, the Tox has also overtaken the land itself, in which the plants become overgrown and almost aggressive in where they grow, as well as in the wild animals that also reside around the perimeter of the school, as they grow to larger sizes and become more violent and aggressive than they should be. This aspect of the book was just as intense as I expected and the dark, horror-loving part of me absolutely loved it.

The aspect of the Tox that I didn't love, however, was that it just felt...incomplete. It was explained how it came on and what it did to the girls, but something about it just didn't feel as fully-fleshed as it could have been. It's hard to place exactly what bothered me about it, but I just never felt as though I fully understood how everything worked. While the Tox is going on at this school, the CDC and a nearby US Navy base are working on a cure and promise to do their best to help the students, as well as regularly drop off supplies such as food (and plenty of shampoo!) to the girls. This was an area that I was intrigued by and that does end up playing a large role, but it also felt as though it wasn't handled quite as deftly as it could have been. There were too many red flags leading up to the end that I felt were fairly obvious and let wondering why Power did things the way she did. 

As for the characters, we follow a girl named Hetty throughout the majority of the story, though there is one other POV that we occasionally visit as various plot points progress. Hetty was an interesting character to follow and I can't say that I particularly liked her or felt strongly connected to her, but I did still very much enjoy following her experience. Hetty's closest friends are Byatt and Reese, though Hetty's relationship with Byatt is strained at best and left me perplexed at many points. There were friends-without-being-friends and struggled a lot throughout this book with defining how to act around one another. There is one scene in particular that I am still scratching my head about regarding the relationship between these two, though I can't go into details without going into some spoiler territory. Byatt is the second POV we follow and was one I really enjoyed as well. She has a unique perspective for things and her story takes a much different and more drastic turn than Hetty's does, although Hetty has plenty of her own unexpected revelations as well that completely turn everything in her world upside down--or rather, more upside than it already was. As I mentioned, I never felt fully connected to any of these characters and I think that also hindered my enjoyment of the story.

One of my biggest problems was that there seemed to be very little actual plot and action and a lot more "telling" rather than actual showing of everything that was happening and would happen. I grew tired of the infighting among the girls and the cruelty they displayed to one another. In survival circumstances, strong emotions do tend to start to unfold, but things just felt a bit too bizarre and intense at times. I did, however, appreciate the occasions on which Power included some raw and cruel scenes that did help the plot move and enhance the atmosphere to showcase jut how serious things were at the school. I am also one that generally likes open endings that leave a lot up to the reader to imagine, but the ending for Wilder Girls truly did leave a lot to be desired.

Despite all of my mixed feelings about this book, I did love Power's writing style. Wilder Girls has a somewhat literary vibe to it and an occasionally flowery tone that was never overdone. There was a constant tone of detachment at well that added to the isolation and despair that so many of the girls felt while trapped alone on this island with a mysterious, deadly, and oftentimes violent disease. Power's prose alone made me really enjoy this book and made everything even better and more compelling than I expected. 

Overall, I've given Wilder Girls 3.75 stars! I did thoroughly enjoy a good portion of this book, but there were also quite a lot of minor frustrations that added up and took away some enjoyment. I do realize that a good portion of this may be attributed to my own expectations, which I tried to hold at bay so as not to end disappointed. 

*I received a copy of Wilder Girls in exchange for an honest review. This has no effect on my rating of the novel.*

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  1. This was a well-written and fair review. Would you be interested in reading more from Rory Power in the future?

  2. Yours is the first review I've read of this book, I've been so curious! It sounds like there were some issues but overall I'm still intrigued. I may read a few more reviews before I decide to dive in๐Ÿ˜