Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Review: WILDER GIRLS by Rory Power

Rating: 2.5/5 stars

Wilder Girls has such a cool premise: girls stranded on an island, a toxin taking over their bodies, a story reminisce of Lord of the Flies but with girls. Plus that cover is absolutely stunning. But the inside just didn’t live up to the incredible story it could have been.

This book started out strong and had amazing potential, but so much is missing. At the end, I felt like I had read the middle 70% of a manuscript but didn’t get the 20% of backstory at the beginning or the 10% of resolution at the end, so all I’m left with is the middle and whole ton of questions.

The first thing I noticed about this book was the writing style. It seemed very choppy to me, sentence fragments everywhere but not done well. I know sometimes that’s a stylistic choice but it shouldn’t have been here because it was jarring, honestly, every time I saw a sentence dangling like that without a subject. This is Rory Power’s first book, and you can tell in the writing. I did get used to it as I kept reading, but I still don’t think it was very well written. The story, however, was compelling even though I didn’t love the writing style.

The characters were so flat and forgettable and not developed well at all. They each had their symptoms of the Tox, yet those “defining features” didn’t stick in my mind, other than that of Hetty’s lone eye. There could have been more emphasis on how they each were afflicted with the Tox, as well as more distinct attributes listed because most of the characters felt very one-dimensional and unimportant, and I had trouble picturing them. And then when characters after characters died, I felt nothing, had no attachment to them, because they weren’t developed at all; each was nothing more than a name. And honestly, even the three main protagonists are rather forgettable. What color hair do they have? I have no idea. I hardly know who they are or how they feel even after finishing the book. Also, I found it to be curious that after living in an enclosed space with the same sixty girls for two years, Hetty didn’t even know some of their names. This just adds to the fact of the weak characterization in this book.

On top of the under-developed characters, I couldn’t believe how minimal and forced the romance was, especially after all the times I’ve seen this book described as “sapphic” and “so queer.” It is not. Hetty never expressed her feelings for Reese during the first third of the book and then when she starts talking about them she says how she’s felt that way for years and I wasn’t buying it. It came out of nowhere without any foreshadowing that they could have actually liked each other as mere friends, nonetheless had romantic feelings for one another. Then the relationship was never brought up again during the rest of the book. Hetty and Reese spent a lot of time together for the back half of the story, yet they never held hands, cuddled, kissed, or did anything to indicate that they had confessed their feelings to each other only days before. Honestly, there was no romance at all in this book, and I can’t believe how excited people are getting over that sad excuse for a sapphic romance. The author should have eliminated the “romance” completely and focused only on the friendship to make for a stronger story since the entire plot is focused on friendship anyway.

I had trouble picturing the setting of this book. The island was way bigger than I ever imagined it to be for all the events taking place to work out properly and for all those animals to be hiding in the forests for years without them all being shot. I wish we got some dimensions about how long the island was and other defining factors that would help create the image, especially at the end when they reach a new end of the island they haven’t seen before, like where did that come from?

There seemed to be lots of little holes in this story that distanced me from the excitement of the plot, details that were missing that pulled me back to reality that I had to just brush aside and ignore, and that really bothered me. I didn’t feel like I could be fully immersed in the story like I wanted to when I was focusing so much on the small but necessary pieces of information. It’s the little things that make a story feel cohesive and realistic, and unfortunately what this book was missing was the little things. That and the entire backstory.

One thing I did enjoy was that the author was pretty explicit in the awful, creepy things happening at the school and didn’t try to be nice to the girls for the readers’ sakes; there is a lot of brutality in here and it’s stated outright, which I appreciated. I cannot stand when something terrifying is about to happen and then an author is like “just kidding, I don’t want to hurt my readers,” like absolutely not, I want to feel pain and emotions while I’m reading, don’t pull the punches. I’m happy to say this book delivered on that front.

But even the creepiness couldn’t save the book after that ending. There was no resolution at the end. The story just ended when it shouldn’t have and it needed another fifty pages or so to properly explain everything; there were a lot of questions left unanswered. The idea behind the story captivated me but the execution of the story was a letdown. I expected more than was delivered, and that makes me really sad. Unanswered questions (and unused potential) is one of my biggest pet peeves while reading. It feels like the author didn’t have a good reason for why everything was the way it was and how it got that way, specifically regarding the Tox and how it started or what it even was, so she just didn’t include any necessary details at all and left out all that necessary development. That is not a good writing technique and it only served to frustrate me and make the book feel incomplete and unrealistic.

I’m so bothered and upset by the egregious lack of information in this story. I need a logical explanation of events in books, especially dystopian ones, and Wilder Girls did not explain anything. I couldn’t get behind the story or feel like it was realistic or anything because so much was missing. This book could have been amazing, but it wasn’t. I waited the whole story for all the details and reveals to come together at the end, but they didn’t. I still cannot believe it ended how it did, with nothing revealed to us. It completely sets up for a sequel, but I was under the impression this is a standalone story, as it should be. There just needs to be way more substance in this volume than what we got.

Wilder Girls needed a better substantive editor to help with the major overarching problems of the story. A good editor could have helped Rory craft a beautiful story that delivered on its promise and answered all the questions and had a satisfying ending, but instead it felt like this book skipped that editing stage and went straight to copyediting. This is a book that desperately needed a lot of editing help that it sadly didn’t receive.

I was debating whether to give Wilder Girls three or four stars the entire time I was reading it, but after that ending and not getting any answers, I was then debating between two and three because of how disappointed I was. I enjoyed the story quite a bit and found it to have an engaging plot throughout, but so many elements were lacking for me that ultimately I settled on two stars. The characters needed more depth and development, the romance was forced and unnecessary, the writing was amateur, the main questions surrounding the plot of the story were not answered or even touched upon, the ending was weak with no resolution, and so many crucial details of the story were missing that it resulted in gaping holes in the narrative and a lack of logical explanations. The edge-of-your-seat plot was the strong point of this book, but I had to overlook so many missteps to have it all make sense in my mind, even when I knew it wasn’t plausible. The most compelling plotline and what I was most excited to read about wasn’t even explained in the book, and that is very sad.

I obviously still have some questions about events in Wilder Girls, questions that, if answered in the story, would have enhanced my reading experience and the overall quality of the book. SPOILERS AHEAD.
[—How did the Tox start in the first place; like what caused it, and when? We never find that out because we never see a cure for it. I hate when there’s a disease in a dystopian story and we never learn the origin of it.
—Similarly, how did it get to Raxter without affecting the mainland? How did it spread? Why did it infect girls their age? Was the worm actually the Tox? Because Byatt did not get better after it was removed, like I still don’t know if she even lived or not at the end. And how did the worms get inside them? Give me literally any information about the Tox, please, because we got nothing.
—Why did Reese and Hetty leave all the girls back at the school to be eaten by the bear and blown up by the jet? I absolutely could not believe that, after everything they’d done to save everyone—Hetty put herself in danger to save some random girl from the freaking bear and they dragged the bodies out of the music room after they were gassed—they leave all the girls to die. They seriously leave everyone behind. I thought they’d go back, but nope. What was all that about?
—How did the CDC/Navy/Headmistress know that the quarantine had been broken? That was never explained either, only that they knew one of the girls had been out. Do they have hidden cameras, sensors that can tell when someone leaves the building, or some other means of knowing?
—What exactly were they doing to Byatt? What was she being tested for and what did the people ultimately hope to find? We never learned this information either and I was bothered not knowing that. They kept testing her, injecting her, drugging her, and likely doing the same to many girls before her, but all for what purpose? They said they were experimenting on the food and wanted to experiment on the girls, but what were they trying to figure out?
—We need to know more about what’s happening on the mainland. Do people know the island is infected? Do people know the Tox even exists? What are the goals and motivations of the people in charge?
—Hetty and Reese know that the jets are coming to blow up the island, yet the set out in a boat toward the mainland. You would think that if a plane was flying over ocean, it would see a boat moving away from the island and know that the girls are escaping, yet this idea was never brought up. How were they not seen though? And why didn’t the jets blow up the medical building on the island when it flew over it when the girls were inside? I don’t understand, seriously, there are so many plot holes I’m going crazy.]

I read an ARC of this book, and I sincerely hope the finished copy is different and actually contains the much-needed answers that were lacking. If you have read the finished copy and disagreed with anything I noted in this review, please let me know, because I will reread this whole book in its finished form if it is actually different. 

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