by Rory Power
Reviewed by Galen Strickland
Posted June 3, 2019
I received an e-ARC of this title from Net Galley in exchange for an honest review. Wilder Girls will be published in a little over a month, July 9, 2019. It will be difficult avoiding spoilers, so I'll start with a comparison: it's like the Wayward Children meet the Southern Reach.
The Raxter School for Girls is on Raxter Island, off the coast of Maine. Camp Nash, a Naval base, is on the mainland nearby. Parents of several of the girls are stationed there. Classes range from grades 6-12, so the youngest girls are 11-year-olds. Or, I should say, the youngest were 11, but now the youngest surviving are 13. A strange sickness has broken out at the school, researchers finally determining it manifests itself differently at different ages, most likely due to varying levels of estrogen. Girls who have yet to reach puberty, and the oldest of their teachers who have passed menopause, die shortly after infection. Older students and younger teachers are infected, but the disease manifests itself differently in each, and it has also struck the island's wildlife.
Hetty loses the use of one eye when an overgrowth of skin, much like an extra eyelid, encloses it. One of Reese's hands has transformed into metallic-like claws. Byatt's back has erupted with an extra bony spine. The Navy and the CDC send doctors and nurses, blood samples are taken, but then they leave. It's been a year and a half since the Tox was first noticed. Several of the girls have suffered worse, either being confined to the infirmary, possibly transferred to another facility, or have died, their bodies cremated in the field back of the school. For a short while the girls were allowed to speak to their parents via radio, but even that is stopped for some reason. The school is quarantined, receiving only periodic food and supply shipments by boat, but the sailors never come ashore. It's not clear if the fence around the school had already been there, or built afterwards. The school becomes more like a military unit, with alternating groups assigned for Door Shift, guarding the front entrance, or Gun Shift, stationed on the roof to watch the front gate and anyone or anything approaching the fence. The Boat Shift retrieves the shipments left at the dock and rations out food and other supplies. Other than Boat Shift, no one else is allowed outside the fence.
Rory Power's debut novel boasts evocative prose, searing emotions, fear, anxiety, and both self-reflection and emotional deflection. It could be considered Young Adult, but there's lots of adult content, including the actions of some of the girls, the headmistress, and the lone surviving teacher. The descriptions of their physical changes can be gruesome at times, and their psychological state could be traumatic for some readers. The majority of the book is a first-person account by Hetty, but later, shorter chapters are from Byatt's perspective, after she is moved to an unknown location, assumed to be on the mainland. Hetty's only goal, even more than her own survival, is to find Byatt. Everyone exhibits selfishness and paranoia at various times, but a few manange strength of will, and perseverance. In the end it is the bonds of friendship, maybe even love, that allows some of them to survive. What that survival might look like is left to the reader's imagination. Highly recommended.
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