Being a teenage girl is rough. Being a teenage girl trapped on an island while a mysterious illness transforms you and your friends into strange animal-human hybrids and destroys the wilderness around you? Well, that’s a hardship to which I’ll probably never be able to relate. And that’s what the characters in RORY POWERS’ “WILDER GIRLS” have to deal with.
Hetty, Byatt and Reese are three friends bound together by the strange situation they’re in. They attend the Raxter School for Girls. Except classes aren’t really in session. A sickness has taken over the school. Almost all the adults have died, except for two of the younger faculty, Miss Welch and the Headmistress. These two keep the girls in order, helping them learn survival skills and to manage their meager supplies.
The illness on the island causes the girls to go through painful and unpredictable transformations. Hetty’s right eye fuses shut. Reese has a silver-scaled claw for a hand and glowing hair. Byatt grows a second spine. Other girls aren’t so lucky; sometimes, the transformations are too much for their bodies to handle.
Hetty is recruited to the team of girls responsible for bringing supplies from the Navy drop-off point back to the school. The job is dangerous, requiring them to face the transformed wilderness that surrounds the school. Just when Hetty thinks the danger can’t get any more intense, she discovers a secret that could bring everything crumbling down. And this secret might put Byatt’s life in danger.
“Wilder Girls” is one of those books that could be categorized for adults if the content was just a little different. As is, the author deals with topics such as love, betrayal and family, all with a science-fiction spin that I think both adult and teen readers can enjoy. I appreciated the depiction of everyday life in a disaster situation. Yes, the school is falling apart, but there are still love triangles and petty disagreements. Life goes on, even when life is mutating around you.
The story is told mainly from Hetty’s perspective, with a few chapters from Byatt’s point of view. While I don’t mind this tactic, it doesn’t work as well in “Wilder Girls.” The chapters told by Byatt feel too much like what they are: a way for the author to tell readers about the secrets Byatt unwittingly uncovers.
I have a real knack for choosing books that don’t have tidy endings. “Wilder Girls” is such an example. Of course, the author could be leaving room for a sequel — and I honestly hope that’s the case. For any criticisms I might have, it’s a really well-written book. In a way, it reminded me of the “Southern Reach” trilogy by Jeff VanderMeer, which is always a bonus.
On a completely different note, I should say this is my last book review for Joplin Public Library. I’ve accepted a position at another library.
JPL has been part of my life since my childhood, when I would walk to the old library on Main Street and spend hours among the books. Joplin Public Library has a bright future, and I look forward to being a patron for years to come.
Leslie Hayes is the technical services librarian at the Joplin Public Library.