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 her friend 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 review is spoiler-free, except where marked
Power’s debut novel is a sci-fi-thriller set on an island, where a girls’ boarding school is being taken over by an otherworldly disease that is picking off the girls one-by-one. Predominantly following Hetty as she tries to uncover the truth about the island and its inhabitants, Wilder Girls is for the most part gripping with genuine characters and enough of a mystery weaved through it to keep the interest building throughout.
- The book is very well-paced and gripping. I picked this up on a whim after a Kindle recommendation and I read it through in one sitting, finishing at almost midnight. The chapters were constructed in such a way that ‘one more…’ soon became ‘…only one left’. It’s been a long time since a YA horror/paranormal/sci-fi/whatever-genre-you-want-to-call-this hooked me in such a way.
- Unlike many protagonists of the genre, the central girls all read relatively believably. Reese especially shows some emotional depth, and Hetty is an interesting lens through which to view the world. Yes they do stupid things, but they do stupid things believable of a bunch of 16-year-olds caught up in an apocalypse, so I’ll let it slide.
- I was drawn to this book with the promise of LGBTQ+ characters, and while they are definitely there, romantic love and sexual relationships take a back seat in this novel. I’m completely fine with that. Given the nature of the topic (horrific conditions, ravaging sickness, potential death) it would have seemed incongruous to shove more romance into the novel, although I don’t deny for a second that many YA books of this genre do try. For me, it was a nice departure to have more genuine character interactions that were motivated by care for one another, rather than raging uncontrollable lust that we see in many YA dystopians/sci-fi/paranormal. The character interactions -romantic or otherwise- felt for the most part genuine because of it.
- Despite being a ‘Teen/YA’ book, Power does not shy away from addressing the gore and horror of the world she has created. There is no sugar-coating with this one, and thank God for it, as Power manages to handle the situation with the gravitas it deserves. Violence is not gratuitous, and depictions of gore are not unnecessary. It feels suitable for both the genre and the audience.
- In the first couple of chapters the sentence structure was very clunky, making it harder than necessary to follow. I think this book could have done with another once over from editors.
- The ending felt anti-climactic. Just when it was getting really good, I looked at the page tracker on my Kindle and realised I only had 20 pages left, yet there was so much unresolved! I am unsure as to whether a sequel or companion novel to this is planned as it feels like there isn’t quite enough of a cliffhanger
- The change in character perspective worked for the most part, but there were some aspects of Byatt’s chapters that felt unnecessary compared to the strong narrative that we see in Hetty’s chapters. Also, the change in writing style for Byatt is a narratively apt decision, however formatting on the Kindle made this unnecessarily clunky to follow at times.
- I would have loved to see more character development for Byatt and for Welch [*SPOILERS* in particular given Welch’s ending – I understand holding back elements of her identity to preserve the mystery, but ultimately when her decisions were revealed it is more of a confusing flip-flop than a satisfying development or surprising reveal.]
Have to shout out Power as a UEA alumna (which I promise I had no idea of when I picked up the book and decided to review it!) I love seeing fellow UEA creative writing students succeeding.
Would I recommend?
If you have a spare afternoon or a long journey and want something that will keep your attention then yes, I would recommend.
Would I read the author’s work again?
Definitely. Power knows how to retain interest and write believable YA sci-fi heroines, which is something many YA sci-fi writers over the years have massively missed the mark on.
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