My journey to Wilder Girls was thus:
- Get obsessed with the HBO Show, Devs
- Remember how much I like Alex Garland
- Re-watch Annihilation (a movie based off the first of the Southern Reach novels by Jeff VanderMeer)
- Go down the rabbit-hole reading Southern Reach reviews, spoilers, and theories
- Stumble across a Cannonball Read review which likened Wilder Girls to Annihilation
Which brings me to now!
I read through this novel over the Easter long weekend and was immediately captured by the imagery and premise. An isolated all-girls boarding school, located on a small island off the coast of Maine, is overcome by ‘The Tox’. The Tox, which appeared a couple of years before the book starts, causes unique and disturbing mutations in all the pubescent girls who live at the school. For some girls, the mutations are mild and almost beautiful – phosphorescent hair and a silver scaled hand. For others, the mutations are disturbing – one girl grows a second spine, which has painfully ruptured out of her back. Another girl sprouts gills. Some girls just go feral and lose their minds. There is an obvious connection here between the onset of menstruation and the onset of mutations. The CDC quarantines the island and drops off supplies, but tensions are high, food is scarce, and there is no clear end to the isolation (sound familiar?).
It’s not just the girls who are affected. The rest of the island’s inhabitants; adults, plants, and animals alike, are changed. Trees grow massive and crabs, foxes, deer, and bears are twisted by physical mutations and increased aggression. The fence surrounding the school is the only thing that separates the beasts outside from the beasts within.
This young-adult genre novel hits the right notes throughout – a coming of age story with a decent mystery surrounding the illness, grotesque descriptions of the increasing mutations, and a quest to reunite a group of three close friends.
Unfortunately, the book did not stick the landing for me and I have been left with more questions than answers. There’s also a bit of a ham-fisted climate science deus ex machina at the end which I did not love. But, overall, a worthy distraction from the ills of the world but nothing to rave about.
4 shotgun casings out of 5.