Review: Wilder Girls – A Strangely Beautiful and Flawed Gem (Minus that Ending)

81YpesZPk5L.jpg

Title: Wilder Girls
Author: Rory Power
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Release Date: July 9th, 2019
Genre(s): YA Sci-Fi
Subjects and Themes: Friendships, LGBTQIAP+ (f/f), Body Horror
Page Count: 368 (hardback)

Rating: 7.0/10

 photo addtogoodreadssmall_zpsa2a6cf28.png photo B6096376-6C81-4465-8935-CE890C777EB9-1855-000001A1E900B890_zps5affbed6.jpg

 

Β 

 

 

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.

flourish

 

This is another one of those books that make me wish I didn’t have a rating system. Ones that send me into reviewer crisis mode because they’re impossible to pin down with a number.

Just keep this in mind when you get to my rant at the end: I do recommend the book. I love what it represents–girls loving girls, girls willing to fight for girls–and I love that it tries to do something different. And when it comes to art (or anything, really), shoot for the stars, even if the landing is a bit of a disaster.

Prose and atmosphere-wise, I loved it. The setting is vividly drawn, and the descriptions of the Tox and the way changes the girls, and the feelings and emotions orbiting that change, are done brilliantly. Terrible and grisly, for sure, but also infused with an uncomfortable kind of beauty.

The main characters are a bit of a hit and miss. Power describes the girls’ relationships beautifully, and I really appreciate that she took the time to explore intense friendships and romantic love and the idea that there’s room for both in your life. I also love the fact that all of these characters are allowed to be selfish and mean–not because they’re terrible people but because their circumstances aren’t kind and there’s only so much kindness you can dredge up when it feels like your life is teetering on a knife’s edge. Forever give me all the flawed female characters who aren’t always nice.

The thing is, while I was invested in the feelings that the three girls have for each other, I wasn’t invested in them as characters. I think there are two main reasons for that. One being that they’re all more or less defined by their love, and not by any strong individual characteristics that I can hook onto. And the second being that their character development doesn’t happen gradually and smoothly, but in staccato bursts. For example, one of them would say something that would trigger a sudden shift in their opinion of the other person. (spoiler): Or when Hetty goes from freaking out about killing someone in self-defense to murdering someone else in cold blood, and the latter doesn’t seem to affect her in the slightest. It can be quite jarring.

The plot and prose were engaging enough for me to shove those negatives to the side, though. And I say that as a big proponent of “characters over worldbuildng/plot.” Like, if tomorrow you tie me to a chair and tell me that the only books I can read for the rest of my life are the ones with high plot concepts but weak character building, I wouldn’t be unhappy with something like this–unsettling and horrific and strangely beautiful for it.

…And I really wish I can end this review here. I really do.

But I got to talk about that ending.

 

That Ending

ramsay

This is where things go off the rails for me. And I’m trying to purge it from my brain because just thinking about it ruins the experience I had with the rest of the book. From Hetty’s actions and how it wraps things up with the other characters, to the very sudden, very shoddy explanation for the Tox, the ending is the equivalent of strolling along a creek, tripping on a rock, twisting my ankle, and landing face-first into water that’s filled with piranhas–painfully unexpected, makes zero sense (because piranhas in Canada, what?) and puts an abrupt end to what was turning out to be a nice afternoon walk. It tried to go with a scientific route, in which case the explanation should have been doled out in small pieces over the course of the story instead of just dumping it onto your lap at the end. It’s almost as if the author wasn’t sure how to close things off, so she just went with an explanation that’s popular and topical (spoiler: climate change), and it feels so incredibly tacked-on. I’d rather have had no explanation than the ones we got. As for the ending it gives to the characters, it’s one with zero emotional payoff.

The story would have benefited so much from at least 50 more pages of content and I’m truly baffled as to why this is the endpoint the author decided on.

My initial point still stands, though. I do think this is a book worth your interest and perusal. Just…know that it may not wrap up in a way that you were hoping for.

 

flourish

Review copy provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review

31 thoughts on “Review: Wilder Girls – A Strangely Beautiful and Flawed Gem (Minus that Ending)

  1. acquadimore says:

    I agree with everything you said. The atmosphere was amazing and the plot was really compelling, but the characters felt… weirdly inconsistent at times and I couldn’t get myself to care about them as much as I wanted.

    And the ending. Oh, that ending. I went from being happy about how she portrayed plant-based horror to going “well, that doesn’t even work as a metaphor for what you’re trying to talk about” (I usually avoid books about [that thing in the spoiler tag] because I already have to study it and it’s depressing and I don’t need more, but if a book needs to go there, it should at least go there in a way that makes sense, not as if it were magic). It really was a shoddy explanation and I would have preferred the Tox to remain unexplained as well.
    I’m still really interested in seeing what she does next, I’m just hoping it won’t be or try to be about [spoiler thing] again.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Kathy @ Pages Below the Vaulted Sky says:

      Oh god, yeah, it is super depressing to see [redacted] *everywhere* including the stuff you consume for entertainment. I would have avoided these kinds of books too when I was studying it in undergrad.

      And I’m looking forward to her next work too! Like, this was pretty ambitious for a debut novel and she tried to do a lot of things that didn’t quite work, but I love most of the *ideas* that she presented, and I feel like with a lot more editor criticism it could have turned out amazing. So I’m curious to see how her writing will grow from this.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Tammy says:

    I’ve heard so many bloggers mention how they hated the ending! I still plan on reading this at some point because I love the cover and I feel like the story must also be pretty weird.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. thebookishlibra says:

    Yes to everything you said in your review. There’s so much to love about the book but that ending was so frustrating. I also agree about the character development. It has been a few weeks since I read the book and while I remember how fiercely the three main characters fought for each other, I can’t remember a single thing about the individual girls themselves. They just weren’t well developed at all.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Kathy @ Pages Below the Vaulted Sky says:

      I feel like the book had all the components needed to be an amazing story (girl friendships, unique and beautiful premise, etc), it just faltered with the execution. So I’m still really looking forward to seeing what Power’s next book will be. I think she’ll only improve from here. πŸ™‚

      Like

  4. Ola G says:

    Great review, and wonderful cover, and I think I’ll take your word for the rest because a) I’m also more of a fan of character-driven stories and b) the ending seems really frustrating πŸ˜‰

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Lisa says:

    Great review, and I agree with all your points. There’s so much that’s beautiful about the book, but I definitely agree about the character development (I couldn’t quite figure out who Reese was at her core or why she acted the way she did), and the ending made me batty.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Kathy @ Pages Below the Vaulted Sky says:

      Out of the three I thought Reese had the most potential to be an interesting character, and I was hoping we’d get her PoV sometime later in the book and was really disappointed that we didn’t. And my poor roommate had to endure yet another book rant because of that ending. πŸ˜€

      Like

  6. maddalena@spaceandsorcery says:

    The premise looks fascinating, and with the brilliant writing you describe this would be an instant addition to my “wanted” list – but the ending sounds like the author was tired of the story and wanted to close it quickly, which I know would spoil the whole experience for me…
    Thanks for sharing! πŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

  7. sjhigbee says:

    What a brilliant review, Kathy!

    It sounds as if the author had a vision for a world where certain things happened that had a specific impact on her main characters – and then didn’t necessarily develop those protagonists as three-dimensional people outside their reactions to the circumstances and each other, which gives you the sort of dynamic you describe. And then had to scrabble around to find an explanation for that situation which gave her the opportunity to write about the themes that interested her. Shame on the editing team that let the book loose on the world without prompting her to go back to the drawing board and fully explore what sounds like an ambitious premise with a lot going for it!

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply to Kathy @ Pages Below the Vaulted Sky Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s