Rory Power’s Wilder Girls is a sharp and biting debut full of high stakes, a vicious world, and the monsters inside teenage girls.
I struggled a lot with this review because it’s so hard to accurately capture the sheer power that this novel has. It’s fierce, it’s vicious, and it’s so raw and real—I can’t get over the magnificence.
Definitely check out the content warnings here because there are a few, but Power crafts a vicious and isolated world where monsters—inherent and otherwise—reveal themselves in this high-stakes situation. You’re drawn into the story not just from the body horror, but also from the relationships and complicated emotions between the girls at Raxter.
I think this novel was just so skillfully executed. From the way Power set up this slice of the world to be so isolated on the island, to the use of the Tox and Raxter’s natural elements, to the all-girl boarding school, it was the perfect setting to explore this story.
Power really shoved her hand into the chest of this book and tore out its heart, and then laid it on the pages. She took the heart of Raxter and these girls and bared it for us, stark and naked before us. Hetty and Byatt and Reese and their complex dynamics with each other (friendship? romance? something else? you’ll have to read to find out!) were only heightened by the high stakes situation and dangerous lack of resources all the girls were by now familiar with.
Looking back, Power managed to build something incredibly character-based out of something that has a premise that begs for action. And although action did come, it was also incredibly compelling with just the characters and haunting setting alone.
It was such a vivid experience and extremely sharp and probing.
The body horror didn’t seem over the top to me (there are some gruesome descriptions though, so if you are prone to queasiness, it might be good to just familiarize yourself with this a little bit beforehand & check out the content warnings. It was raw and brutal and I just had so many feelings.
I read this while at school and managed to continue to re-immerse myself in it every time I picked it up—whether that meant reading it for five minutes, setting it down for half an hour, and reading it for another five minutes, or getting to sit down for an hour with it.
It was extremely compelling and I absolutely think Power created something incredible with the journey of these girls.
Wilder Girls is definitely dark and gruesome and biting, but it’s also subtle and quiet in the way that it shapes the growth of the characters throughout the story. It’s a dark and dangerous setting and I can see where the Lord of the Flies comparison comes in—with the way that both stories push their characters through horrifying and traumatic situations—but even more than that, it’s a story of three girls trying to understand their place in a world that has turned upside down.
This is honestly one of my favorite books I’ve read this year, and it’s so brutally beautiful. Overall, I’d highly recommend it to anyone who is comfortable with the content warnings, regardless of what genres you typically prefer, because I think this is a great read anyone can enjoy.
The Raxter School for Girls is isolated on an island—but after the Tox hit, something that causes the girls to develop strange mutation like scales on their hands or gills or other bodily changes, they’re quarantined.
Teachers and students died, and now only a few dozen are left, waiting for the cure they were promised to come from the Navy.
But when Byatt goes missing, Hetty would do anything to get her back: even break quarantine, going outside of Raxter’s grounds, and losing any hope at a cure. And in doing so, Hetty discovers something far darker than what she imagined.
Thank you so much to Nat for sending me an ARC from Y’ALL FEST! All thoughts are my own.
Are you excited for Wilder Girls?
Plus, have you seen the character interview I did with characters from Wilder Girls? You can find it here! It’s a good intro to immersing yourself in the story, if I can brag for a moment, hehe!