Wilder Girls by Rory Power
My rating: 4/5 cats
Some days it’s fine. Others it nearly breaks me. The emptiness of the horizon, and the hunger in my body, and how will we ever survive this if we can’t survive each other? “We’re gonna make it. Tell me we’re gonna make it.”
so much about this book is so good. the synopsis. the premise. the chillsiness it delivers. the characters. the tantalizing dislocation of WHAT IS THIS THAT IS HAPPENING? the dread and unease. the tension. that goddamn cover.
i did not love it unconditionally, but what i did love i loved HARD.
set on an island-isolated girls’ school in maine, the reader is dropped instantly into an atmosphere of extreme and horrific circumstances: what was once a fully-functioning, fully-populated school has been diminished by a mysterious affliction known as the tox, wiping out all but two of the teachers and most of the students, with terrible consequences for the ones who managed to stay alive.
the school is located off the coast of a naval base, who have ordered the island quarantined and promised that the CDC is working on a cure. meanwhile, the navy has been providing supplies by way of boat drop-offs collected by the few girls allowed to travel beyond the walled-off school grounds, but the quantity and quality of the supplies have worsened the longer the situation continues, the packages themselves oddly composed: Even when there’s no bread, there’s always shampoo, and the girls are all but starving as they cluster together in the school, functioning in a mostly cooperative free-for-all setup, awaiting the next outbreak.
and the outbreaks are intense. They cycle in seasons, each one worse than before until we can’t bear it anymore, and, if the girls survive, they are left each time with a different physical reminder of their ordeal: glowing hair, silver scales, or with more monstrously disfiguring body horror manifestations; bones protruding through the skin, eyes fused shut, with “something” growing underneath…
It’s like that, with all of us here. Sick, strange, and we don’t know why. Things bursting out of us, bits missing and pieces sloughing off, and then we harden and smooth over.
the patterned timing of the flare-ups, the age of the victims, the ceremonial rite-of-passage way they acknowledge a girl’s first episode gives it a very OUR CHANGING BODIES vibe, and girls know all too well the bloody body-horror transformations of puberty even without something like the tox, but this goes beyond allegory, the girls keep on dying, and it’s unclear whether the root cause is illness, toxin, biological agent, etc, but it’s one that has also affected the local wildlife, causing forest-dwellers like foxen, bears, and bobcats to be a little bigger, more aggressive and more desperately hungry, as misshapen as the humans.
There used to be horses, four of them, but early in the first season, we noticed how the Tox was starting to get inside them like it got inside us, how it was pushing their bones through their skin, how it was stretching their bodies until they screamed. So we led them out to the water and shot them.
so far, it is everything i love and all the best parts of Lord of the Flies, The Village, Pure: survival in a dangerous landscape, mysterious and terrifying illness, giant freaking animals, teen girls with guns and shifting loyalties and EXOSKELETONS and important decisions to make about trust and love and loyalty and how and when to play your cards and all of the seeeeeekrits that go with the us v. them situation of limited resources and even-more-limited information and not knowing what’s really going on ‘out there.’
i love the characters, the switching POVs, the escalating tensions and the bold authorial moves. but then that ending. that’s no way to say good-bye. i assume it’s a case of where they’re interested in a follow-up book but want to see how this debut sells before committing to a follow-up, but i’m not in love with where the book cuts off. the final scene works as a final scene and an appropriate ending-mood, but there’s too much left unresolved before that sunlit-water-for-credits-to-roll-over ambiguous optimism. i was expecting a standalone book, and this feels unfinished. i loved it until then, but unfortunately, that’s how books work: the last thing you read-feel is what looms largest in your mind, and for me, it was a quiet disappointment. everything else, though, thumbs up!
now gimmie a second book!
I DON’T KNOW IF YOU UNDERSTAND HOW BADLY I WANT THIS