About the Book

Title: Wilder Girls
Published: 2019
Swoonworthy Scale: 5

Cover Story: Montell Jordan
BFF Charm: Yay
Talky Talk: Atmospheric Horror
Bonus Factors: Boarding School, Mystery
Anti-Bonus Factor: Awful Grown-ups
Relationship Status: Second Date?

Cover Story: Montell Jordan

GIF from Montell Jordan's music video "This Is How We Do It"

Is it a Big Face? Technically yes. But is it still breathtaking? ALSO YES. As in, I literally gasped when I saw this cover. It’s the reason I wanted to read the book! Well, it’s the reason I wanted to read the blurb, which also made me want to read the book, but you get my drift. This cover is so gorgeous and striking, and a perfect representation of this book. I assume that is Hetty on the cover, since the haircut tracks and Hetty lost an eye to the Tox. However, it could potentially be Byatt? Or maybe the fact that it could be either of them adds to its genius? Either way: I am in love.

The Deal:

It’s been eighteen months since a strange plague called the Tox infected every living thing on Raxter Island off the coast of Maine, where a boarding school for girls is still under quarantine. First it got the animals and plants on the island, turning them black and wild and deadly. When it reached The Raxter School for Girls, it killed most of the teachers, then the girls began getting scales or gills or claws. They turned wild and attacked each other – sometimes because of the Tox, and sometimes because 18 months on a small island with little food or resources will turn girls into wild and dangerous things. The girls at Raxter don’t dare leave the school’s gates and venture out into the woods, for fear of being killed by whatever awaits them. They wait for a cure from the mainland, surviving on the small amounts of supplies the coast guard sends them.

Hetty and her best friends Byatt and Reese stick together, look out for each other, but when Byatt goes missing, Hetty begins to think that the two teachers left at Raxter know more than they’re letting on. Hetty is willing to break quarantine and all the other rules the girls have learned to live by if it means getting Byatt back, and Reese is willing to do whatever Hetty needs her to. But as Hetty and Reese set out into the wild to find their friend, they learn much more than they ever bargained for about Raxter and the Tox and what awaits them outside those gates.

BFF Charm: Yay!

Yay BFF Charm

Hetty, Byatt and Reese are three bad ass bitches. The Tox has left its mark on all of them, but it’s also made them tough. Hetty lost an eye but she’s a whiz with a shotgun, Byatt has a second spine poking out of her back (!), while Reese’s left hand is now covered in scales with deathly blade-like claws attached to it. 

What I loved about Hetty, Byatt and Reese was that an apocalyptic plague only made them value each other’s friendship that much more. They could have turned on each other, seen each other as someone to compete with for resources. Instead, Hetty and Byatt especially leaned into their friendship with one another. Reese was a bit more prickly, and while she didn’t open up the way the other girls did, you knew she loved them in her own way.

Swoonworthy Scale: 5

OR MAYBE the reason Reese is a bit guarded around Hetty is because the two of them have some ~feelings~ for one another that have been unresolved all this time. Hetty and Reese share a few moments that come with all the nervous, tingly, finger-brushing swooniness you’d expect, but romance is just so low on the priority list in this book that I was never really invested in this particular plot point.

Talky Talk: Atmospheric Horror

Wilder Girls is, no doubt, a horror novel. It was difficult for me to read it before bed because I would be scared to turn the lights off! And while horror is not usually my go-to genre, I knew from the first page that I was hooked by Power’s gorgeous prose. 

“It’s like that, with all of us here. Sick, strange, and we don’t know why. Things bursting out of us, bits missing and pieces sloughing off, and then we harden and smooth over.”

If this book was a horror movie, it wouldn’t be a slasher film. It’d be one of those haunting, creepy indie movies that ends up with a handful of Oscar nominations. There were a few moments, especially when the girls were in the woods, where I was white-knuckling the book, waiting for something to jump out and make me scream. But the scariest parts were never “BOO” moments. They were darker, bigger, more secretive – things that make you scared of things you didn’t even realize you should be afraid of.

Bonus Factor: Boarding School

Regal old boarding school building with turrets and ivy on the stone walls

But, like, apocalyptic boarding school! This is certainly a new twist on an old favorite. The Raxter School for Girls is located on an island off the coast of Maine, and since it’s been under quarantine for two years, the isolated feel of a boarding school story is exponentially more so here.

Bonus Factor: Mystery

Cast of the movie Clue gathered in doorway

I loved the way Power keeps us in the dark about not only where the Tox comes from and what it’s capable of, but also because the girls are quarantined on the island, you aren’t sure what the state of humanity is like off-island either. Is the apocalypse nigh? Is the Tox everywhere? And whew boy, does Power hit you with some twists and reveals that will make you say, “Oh, shit!”

Anti-Bonus Factor: Awful Grown-Ups

Boxtrolls characters

Holy cow were the grown-ups terrible in this book. I can’t go into specifics without getting spoilery, but just know you’ll want to punch an adult or two (and luckily, some adults actually do get punched).

Relationship Status: Second Date?

Queer feminist dystopian horror? Book, you were exactly the thing I didn’t know I needed. You were beautiful and mysterious and spooky and now I wish there were more of you to enjoy. Rory Power, if you’re reading this – any chance of a second date?

Literary Matchmaking

Ashes (Ashes Trilogy #1)

For more creepy whats-going-on-I’m-kinda-scared dystopian horror, check out Ashes by Ilsa J. Bick.

A Great and Terrible Beauty (Gemma Doyle #1)

If you’re looking for a cozy boarding school mystery with a historical fiction spin, try A Great and Terrible Beauty by a YA horror pro, Libba Bray.

Variant

Variant by Robinson Bell features similar themes: being trapped in a boarding school while only having communication with a mysterious man over radio.

FTC Full Disclosure: I did not receive money or Girl Scout cookies of any kind (not even the gross cranberry ones) for writing this review. Wilder Girls is available now.

Rosemary lives in Little Rock, AR with her husband and cocker spaniel. At 16, she plucked a copy of Sloppy Firsts off the "New Releases" shelf and hasn't stopped reading YA since. She is a brand designer who loves tiki drinks, her mid-century modern house, and obsessive Google mapping.