Review by Hira Peracha
Delacorte Press, July 2019
353 pages, hardcover, $24.99 CAD, 978-0-525-64558-0
Ages 14+, Grades 9-12
Young Adult, Horror, Mystery
Deer, small before the Tox and so big now they could feed us for weeks, if their meat weren’t rotten and dying. Coyotes, and I’ve heard wolves, though I’ve never seen one. Other things, too, that never show themselves. The Tox didn’t just happen to us. It happened to everything.
Moss layering thick carpets across the ground, vines spiralling high. Here and there, patches of flowers growing strong, even in the cold. They’re irises, vivid indigo petals coated with frost, a cluster in the middle gathered close with a skirt of petals draping down. They grow all over the island, all year round, and we used to have a vase of them in practically every room in the house. Raxter Irises, special for the way their petals darken once they’re picked. Like Raxter Blues. And now like us.
The Tox—A parasite, a plague, a disease. It affects every single person and thing at Raxter School for Girls, but, some more than others. For Hetty, the sixteen-year-old protagonist, the Tox took her eye, but that doesn’t stop her, nor any of the other girls, from remaining strong on the island they are quarantined on.
The students of Raxter School for Girls are quarantined within Raxter house, behind a large heavy-duty fence on an island. Beyond the fence is a thick forest, unknown creatures, the ocean, and then nothing. The Navy ordered the residents to not break quarantine with the exception of the Boat Shift. The Boat Shift, composed of three girls and Ms. Welch, a teacher, were the few people who were allowed to leave the enclosed campus of Raxter and gather supplies shipped to them. When one of the girls in Boat Shift quits, Hetty is assigned to the group and discovers secrets that, if exposed, could create chaos. But, when Hetty’s best friend, Byatt, goes missing, Hetty struggles to keep many of those secrets to herself.
Wilder Girls by Rory Power is written in two points of view: Hetty and Byatt. The way the chapters are organized between the two characters gave the impression that Hetty was the main protagonist because we get more Hetty overall. I found Hetty’s chapters more accessible than Byatt’s because Hetty’s thoughts, opinions, and struggles are laid out clearly for the readers. In comparison, Byatt’s chapters were more poetic, the sentences quick and punchy. While it was effective in establishing a more chaotic tone, it wasn’t as linear or clear as Hetty’s voice.
Rory Power’s descriptions, written in the present and laced around exposition and dialogue, are eerie and chilling as if you are on the island with Hetty (see excerpt). Although the sentences are blunt and choppy, it effectively raises suspense and tension. Hetty’s world, however horrifying it is revealed to be, blossoms on every page, becoming both clearer and muddier as old questions are answered and new questions surface. However, the girls at Raxter are not sheltered from the world, the world is sheltered from them. And although our knowledge is limited and there is a lot of mystery present, what we are told through descriptions of the island and of how the Tox consumes Raxter makes everything pop out as alive and unsettling but beautiful.
Not only are the descriptions vivid but the characters are unique and realistic. I think that’s why it makes this story solidly young adult: Hetty, Byatt, and their other friend, Reese, (all 16 years old) are complex in their own ways. Hetty is swift and smart, Byatt is calm and logical, and Reese is headstrong. They question mysteries they don’t understand but most of all their friendship and commitment towards each other is admirable and something a lot of young readers will cherish. They are persistent and goal-driven, and don’t allow bumps in the road to trip them up, especially when they are faced with loss and confusion.
While reading the more female-centric Wilder Girls, I was reminded of the more male-centric The Maze Runner by James Dashner in that the reader’s view is confined to the dystopian or apocalyptic environment and limited to what the narrator observes.
Wilder Girls is haunting in its descriptions and the reality of what lengths individuals can go to in order to survive. It will give you chills and a rush of adrenaline as you run alongside the girls at Raxter.
Hira Peracha is a recent graduate from the Psychology and Creative Writing programs at the University of British Columbia. She enjoys reading and writing fiction and poetry.