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.
Glennon Doyle has a very interesting voice. I appreciate a lot of what she's laying down, but some of this just felt a little selfish, to the point where it's borderline snobbery. Yet I also felt a kinship with Doyle and much of her take on the world felt like she was talking directly to me, absorbing right into my being. How can you not love a book like that? Doyle shares her experience with a divorce and a new relationship with a woman, retired soccer star, Abby Wambach. I loved the island metaphor that she uses to explain to family and friends that were not accepting of their new family unit. "When you are ready to come to our island with nothing but wild acceptance and joy and celebration for our true, beautiful family, we’ll lower the drawbridge for you. But not one second sooner." I especially related to her sections on parenting a sensitive child. She talks about how sensitivity is a superpower and not something to be ashamed of. Her mantra "We can do hard things," is something I've already started repeating to my girls especially in these last few months. Feelings are meant to be felt - all of them, not just the happy ones that we display to the world around us. Doyle is obviously a kick-ass mother but is also quick to point out when she doesn't do things right. She has a genuine ability to self-reflect, and this makes her thoughts that much more likeable and relatable.
I'm all for women taking stock of their lives and knowing when to say no. Selfishness has a rightful place in our lives, but it also needs to be balanced with empathy and awareness of others. Women often put others first to the detriment of their own sanity, but a healthy balance is what's missing not a full onslaught of self-talk, and a me-me-me-me-me attitude. But with that said, Glennon (I feel like I'm already on a first name basis with her, and I'm pretending we're friends) would probably point out that confident women all too often get labeled entitled, and to that point I agree. Quibbling over how much selfishness is too much or just right is not enough to take away from the other points in her book. She has so much good stuff in here to ignore. And then she says “When a woman finally learns that pleasing the world is impossible, she becomes free to learn how to please herself,” and I feel like I everything I just thought was wrong. She's so good and really makes me think about ALL OF THE THINGS.
And then she brings on the pizzazz with this gleaming pearl that I can't stop thinking about. “Mothers have martyred themselves in their children’s names since the beginning of time. We have lived as if she who disappears the most, loves the most. We have been conditioned to prove our love by slowly ceasing to exist. What a terrible burden for children to bear—to know that they are the reason their mother stopped living. What a terrible burden for our daughters to bear—to know that if they choose to become mothers, this will be their fate, too. Because if we show them that being a martyr is the highest form of love, that is what they will become. They will feel obligated to love as well as their mothers loved, after all. They will believe they have permission to live only as fully as their mothers allowed themselves to live.If we keep passing down the legacy of martyrdom to our daughters, with whom does it end?" Gut punch. Doyle has a way of just getting to the raw meat of women's lives, and this is just one of her many juicy bits of wisdom that make me keep coming back to this book, cringing and loving it all at the same time.
Travel All the Pages is inspired by my two loves - travel and reading, a combo I can't resist. Enjoy these little pairings.