“Wilder Girls” by Rory Power Delacorte Press, 2019 357 pages $19
It’s been eighteen months since the Raxter School for Girls was placed under quarantine by the CDC. A strange illness, called the Tox, has infected the school, manifesting itself in strange ways among the residents, causing some girls to develop scales, spines protrude through backs, and gill like cuts developing on girl’s necks, each symptom unique to the girl it infects. Protagonist Hetty is best friends with both Byatt and Reese. When Byatt goes missing, Hetty and Reese set out to both to find her and the truth about their circumstances.
“Wilder Girls” is primarily told from Hetty’s perspective, with some chapters from Byatt’s point of view after she goes missing. All of the main characters are likable, girls who are trying to make the best of a miserable situation. The food that is delivered is rarely fresh and very scarce, causing girls to fight over the meager rations. A yellowing letter from various government organizations promises that the CDC is working on diagnosing what Tox truly is and they are to expect delivery of a cure. The girls at Raxter in the dark literally and metaphorically, as all electricity and internet connections have ended long ago. Some girls work on gun duty, keeping a look out for the various creatures on Raxter Island who have become fiercer as the Tox has infected them as well. A select group of girls are chosen for boat duty, where they are responsible for retrieving the supplies provided by the government. When Miss Welch chooses Hetty for this prestigious role, the questions that have been simmering in her mind for some time begin to bubble up to a fever pitch.
“Wilder Girls” succeeds in creating a suspenseful mystery and leaving readers on the edge of their seats through using only first person narration. The readers know no more than what the girls know, and the few answers that exist take their time in revealing themselves. This delay in answers allows for great character development. The desperation the girls feel and their continued hope in the face of terrible circumstances is inspiring. Even though they only teenagers themselves, the girls look after each other and act far more grown up than any girl should have to be. Readers will hold out hope for girls even as the odds seem to be stacked against them.
The mystery of the Tox and what will happen to the girls on Raxter Island keeps the reader engaged, but the answers given might not be as in depth as readers might wish. The ending is very ambiguous and is open ended enough for a potential sequel, but it is not abrupt. “Wilder Girls” is an engaging read about having hope when things seem utterly hopeless with a mystery spun throughout.
Elizabeth Weislak is the Youth Services Coordinator for Alamance County Public Libraries. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org