By Rory Power
Published July 9, 2019 by Delacorte Press
Wilder Girls is a weird, visceral book that will stay with me long after reading it.
The Raxter School has been under quarantine for 18 months. Situated on an island, it’s isolated from the mainland, and it was easy to cut it off from civilization when the Tox started. The epidemic has killed all but two of the teachers and many of the students. Those who have survived are changed, their bodies strange and different.
Hetty, Reese, and Byatt were friends before the Tox, but now they are more or less a faction, the school having split into groups. There are no classes anymore, just duties split up among the girls. It’s a fairly brutal atmosphere. Food is scarce (there’s only what gets delivered from the mainland and it’s never enough), and even the bonds of friendship aren’t enough to keep Hetty and Reese from fighting each other for a rotting orange. When Byatt has a relapse and is taken to the infirmary, Hetty becomes convinced that something more is going on and decides to try to save her friend, even if it means going beyond the school gates, something that is forbidden by the quarantine.
The island itself is almost a character in the book. It’s changed with the Tox, vegetation overtaking everything outside the school gates, and the animals have become treacherous. The island has become a menacing place, a malevolent presence threatening to encroach upon the school.
This book is probably not for the squeamish. The girls all have strange things going on with their bodies, a missing eye, an extra spine. It’s rough and kind of gross at times, but it’s basically the new normal for the girls.
This book is genuinely creepy. It’s not horror in the “don’t go in there!” sense, but it’s disturbing and weird, and I felt very tense reading it. Some readers may find the pace a bit slow, but I thought it worked well for the story. When the pace picks up in the last third, it’s a gut-punch, and the ending is really well done.
I want to mention that two of the three main characters are queer, and I’m really glad to see the representation. 2019 is giving up lots of queer YA.
I received an eARC from the publisher through NetGalley.