Wilder Girls by Rory Power

A review of the Young Adult horror novel Wilder Girls by Rory Power.

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I know you should never judge a book by its cover, but I was totally taken by Aykut Aydoğdu’s design for Wilder Girls. Not far into the book—four pages no less—did I realise how perfectly the cover captures the tone and content of the novel, and that is a hard feat to pull off.

Wilder Girls is set eighteen months after “the Tox hit” and a lone girls school on Raxter Island is put under quarantine. Teachers have died and with less and less food arriving from the mainlands, the girls have resorted to violence to stay alive. The Tox is a gruesome kind of ailment with girls growing extra spines, losing their eyes, growing silver claws for hands.

I could really relate to the main character Hetty. Co-dependent but resourceful, Hetty has lost her eye to the Tox and is certain that something is living in the socket, trapped beneath her sewn eyelid. She lives in a clique with two of the other surviving girls, Byatt and Reese. Hetty’s unflinching loyalty to Byatt is what sets most of this plot into motion. After a Tox flare-up, Byatt disappears from an infirmary that is forever locked. Byatt’s disappearance is a mystery and begins a search for both truth and hope.

A body-horror kind-of novel, Wilder Girls satisfied my Lord of the Flies craving. Having once read that if Lord of the Flies had happened to a bunch of school girls, it would have ended more civilly, and having also been a young girl in a school with other teenage girls, I can safely say that is not true. Wilder Girls is a more viscerally ‘real’ experience and depiction of how I’d always imagined a girls school would work. Rory Power’s writing style is strong, lending itself to the extreme atmosphere on the island, while also playing well with Hetty’s voice and personality.

Many may be put off by the Young Adult label of this book; I would implore you to read it regardless. There’s a lot packed into this small book, from themes of loyalty and love to much darker aspects of the human condition. I believe there is plenty to discuss and the characters run deep on every page.

I would say, however, that the book is short, and, to give fair warning, results in an abrupt cliff-hanger ending. As the book isn’t a 100,000-word feast, this may work to its advantage in a way, but not necessarily. Whilst I’m not a fan of cliff-hangers, the race to the finishing line almost left me breathless, so I will be reading the second book because of how it ended and how I am genuinely concerned for the unknown danger the girls have managed to get themselves into.

Wilder Girls and its sequel could easily be one book with the way the pace runs, and I’m unsure with how I feel about this set up and pay-off situation. I feel that the promise of a satisfied, conclusive ending will not happen until the next book comes out and that’s a heck of a promise to make.

With all this said, I highly recommend this book if you’re looking for a thrilling read, filled with strong, hardened characters with their own sizeable personalities. If you’re also looking for LGBT+ representation, this book has plenty.

Sometimes she writes. Sometimes she doesn’t. Either way, she’s not doing what she’s supposed to be doing.

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