This book kept me on the edge of my seat mainly because I had no idea what was going on until the very end, but when I finished it, I felt let down. The idea behind Wilder Girls is so cool - a bunch of girls stuck Lord-of-the-Flies-style on an island plagued by the gruesome Tox. They're all living at a boarding school when girls suddenly start experiencing horrific, painful symptoms. Byatt grows a second spine. Hetty's eye seals shut. Someone sprouts gills. Reese gets a scaly hand. I mean, how twisted is that? The island is quarantined from the mainland, and the girls and two remaining adults set up a system for survival. The mainland sends food and supplies as they try to discover a cure. This is how I like my horror, grisly and terrifying.
I loved how all the elements of this meshed together into something cohesive - post-apocalyptic, survival, feminist, sapphic horror, environmental critique, and a smidge of romance and longing. If I'm ever cut off from society in a pandemic, I want the girls from this book with me as my survival squad. The whole book felt very girl power-ish but not in a corny way at all. I appreciated the unique name choices, unique but not outrageous like Moon Puzzle. Some of the names I've been seeing in YA fiction lately make me cringe. Who can take Moon Puzzle seriously? All of the main characters are assumed white.
One of Byatt's cyclic changes forces her into the infirmary, but she never returns. Hetty is determined to find her. Reese is quiet and brooding, and the sexual tension between Hetty and Reese is electrifying and gradual. The girls grapple with the physical challenges created by the Tox but also with one another and the elements outside their compound. The Tox has affected nature, and wild animals show signs of infection. My biggest issue with the book was the reveal of the nature of the Tox including the secrets surrounding it and the adults who are controlling information on the island. Answers are teased through the whole book and then dumped in your lap in a giant, messy pile with no fanfare. It's like the author decided to wrap things up by spilling all the secrets in one anticlimactic word vomit. I felt like I was holding my breath through the entire book, and then the big gulp of air I got to take at the end was stale and smelled like a paper mill at the same time. Harsh. If you've never smelled the emissions from a paper mill, consider yourself lucky. It's a putrid mix of sauerkraut and rotten eggs. I digress. My main point is that I was frustrated with the ending and the reveal, and it ultimately ruined the book for me.
The Stranger Things vibe is all over this book initially but then it diverts and goes down its own majestic Stephen King path. I'm a HUGE King fan and while this did not disappoint, it's definitely not my favorite of his work. Luke Ellis is a super genius twelve-year-old who has big plans to attend college when his whole world is altered the night a group of people break into his house, murder his parents, and ferry him off to the Institute. He wakes up in a bedroom almost identical to his own at home and discovers other kids at the Institute who are being held and forced to endure experiments and shots to expand their telekinetic and telepathic powers. All of this experimental torture takes place in Front Half but eventually kids are moved to Back Half where the real horrors exist, and they're never seen again. The staff at the Institute are heartless and cruel. King builds two simultaneous story lines between the Institute and Tim Jamieson, a disgraced former cop, now working the nightknocker shift in Dupray, South Carolina. I've always loved King's supernatural books more than his true horror (weird, I know) but the only thing I didn't love about this one is that it seems watered down. It's not as nasty as some of his books get, and I quite frankly miss the carnage. This makes me seem like a complete psycho since we're talking about kids, torture experiments, and kidnapping but in comparison to his other greats like The Stand and Under the Dome, this one was just sort of thinned out more than what I prefer in my King reads.
Travel All the Pages is inspired by my two loves - travel and reading, a combo I can't resist. Enjoy these little pairings.