Review: Wilder Girls
By Rory Power
Genre: Horror, YA, LGBQT+
Publisher: Random House Children’s Books / Delacorte Press
Rory Power’s Wilder Girls is often referred to as a female Lord of the Flies. Before I get into my review and the synopsis, let’s talk about Lord of the Flies for a minute.
When Willima Golding’s Lord of the Flies was written there was a popular trend of stories featuring British school boys getting stranded somewhere and having a good go at it. Golding wrote Lord of the Flies to subvert that trope. When Golding’s school boys are stranded following a plane crash – all previously established authority figures are dead. The 2 most charismatic boys from the main cliques form their tribes and assign roles to maintain a signal fire for rescue and to hunt for food. A conch shell becomes their symbol of order- as beautiful and fragile as their sense of safety. Fear of the unknown manifests as a monster in the jungle that erodes that order and deconstructs that society.
In Rory Power’s Wilder Girls, the young women of Raxter School for Girls have been quarantined to their island due to an outbreak of a mysterious virus called the Tox. Tox twists and mangles the young women that encounter it into monstrosities. Their spines burst through skin to be exposed, scales harden and tear, gills tear and expand, but these ailments are only a handful of what happens to the surviving population. Adults are affected differently, their mouths perpetually bleed but there are only two teachers left to maintain a sense of structure and safety for their charges.
The girls are arranged into two groups, Gun shift responsible for standing guard against the infected wilderness beyond their fence and the Boat girls that retrieve supplies from the docks (and the only girls allowed to go beyond the fence). The Navy sends supplies for the survivors but there is never enough medicine or food.
Order is maintained on a knife’s edge, the forest is as much of a threat as the Tox. Animals have been mutated into fierce predators that seek to consume one another and the human survivors. The threat of the Tox and the forest is real. Only by maintaining quarantine is anyone safe but accidents happen. A fox slipped through the fence and ate one of the younger girls.
Reality, time and the Tox are tangible threats to the Raxter survivors. There is no mysterious Lord of the Flies lurking in the darkness, only real dangers that seek to devour little girls that let their guard down or go beyond the School fence line.
Power has created an oppressive atmosphere for the Raxter girls to be swallowed by. Hope of escape and a cure are fragile things. No contact with the outside world has forged strong friendships within the walls of the Raxter School. 18 months under quarantine has forced girls to become women, fighting and rationing what scraps of food they are able to get their hands on.
Wilder Girls follows three best friends, Hetty, Reese and Byatt as they deal with life after quarantine. But one night, Byatt goes missing and Hetty must decide if she is willing to risk everything to save her friend. Will she chose survival over love?
Told in the ever present first person narrative common of the YA genre, I understood Hetty, Reese and Byatt and their motivations. None of these young women are perfect or perceive themselves to be such. They are flawed, spoiled, jealous, and at times, irrational creatures and they felt real. At times I wanted to shake them for making bad choices or saying selfish things but that’s the power of emotional entanglement born of good storytelling.
Fear of metamorphosis is one aspect of this book’s horror. No one knows when the Tox will twist inside of them and distort their bodies or how it will change them. All they can do is wait and pray for the end. We never fully understand what caused the Tox, what it is or why Raxter is the only island affected. Power instead dwells on the impact of these unexplained events on a human level.
In a sense, this is the connection I can make to Lord of the Flies. When fear overtakes us, what and who are we willing to sacrifice to save ourselves?
I enjoyed getting to know the Raxter girls with Reese being my favorite of the trio. The Barnes and Noble exclusive included a bonus Reese perspective chapter which expanded more on her character. When the novel ended it left a lot of world open and there’s no closure. I wanted more, I look forward to reading more of Rory Power’s work and I hope for a sequel.
4 of 5 Stars.