Book Review: The Wild Girls, by Pat Murphy

wild_girls_coverThis book review is part of series of reviews written by students at St. Margaret’s Episcopal School for their 7th grade English classes.

An insightful and erratic woman once stated, “Pay attention. Notice things and think about what you notice. Sometimes you’re writing about one thing and realize your actually writing about something else” (108). That contemplative and unusual woman is Verla Volante, one of the lesser-talked about, but very distinctive and important, characters, in the novel The Wild Girls, written by Pat Murphy.

The year is 1972. Joan and her average, mediocre four-person family have just traveled over 2000 miles across the United States, from the comfort of her cozy home in Connecticut to a new house in Danville, a small suburb just outside of San Francisco. Joan is almost sure she’ll disapprove of her new and ‘improved’ life, but soon finds makes a discovery that changes her mind.

The Queen of the Foxes, Fox, or just simply Sarah- Joan’s newfound friend is known by many names. When Joan encounters Fox, wearing war paint and ascending a tree in the forest behind her house, a friendship is formed immediately. Joan is fascinated by Fox’s ability to not care what other people think of her, and Fox supports Joan, or Newt, a nickname given to her by Fox, in helping her to find adventure- right in her own backyard. Fox lives near Joan- just her, and her writer father, Gus, who is just as strange as Fox, perhaps a bit stranger. When these two wild girls enter a writing competition at school- life takes them in directions they had no idea they could be taken. From a strange new writing camp to meeting with some old friends, these two wild girls are whisked away on the greatest journey that two friends could take.

The three main characters in this story- Joan, Fox and Verla- all have very interesting stories and opinions about certain things- but not all are dying to share. Fox is very opinionated- she isn’t afraid to speak her mind, as shown when she refused to dissect a frog in biology class. “I’m not sticking a needle into a frog” (60), she stated bluntly. But her opinion is usually only heard by her close friends, and family. Joan, on the other hand, is shy and quiet- at some times- but Fox really changes that as the story progresses. The characters also posses strengths, weaknesses, and fears. Fox isn’t good with people- especially people that want her to become something she is not. Joan is afraid of her father, more specifically her mother and father fighting. Which brings us to the conflict of the story.

A few conflicts are mentioned in this story- and not all are resolved. There are a few that are solved in the story. When Joan and Fox are straining to come up with an idea for the writing competition- BAM- it hits them. They then begin a magical story, starring the wild girls, with an evil prince, a kidnapped queen- you get the picture.  But a few conflicts do remain unresolved. Joan’s mother and father are constantly fighting at home. Her father is always arguing about money, and how everyone else is stupid, and claiming that he is smarter than every person. When Joan’s mother convinces him to try a marriage counselor, he is bitterly angry, saying, “I understand a lot of things. I understand that is cost me an arm and a leg to spend an hour talking with some quack about things we already know. I understand you’re spending money like it was water” (130).  Gus has some opinions on this topic- he believes that some people say they’re fighting about some things, when they’re really fighting about another.

I thought this story was very well written. I loved the way that the author, Mrs. Murphy, depicted the character’s emotions, and they were very real, and raw feelings. I also enjoyed the way that the story was written from Joan’s perspective. It probably would have made for a very different story written from Fox’s perspective, or even the third person’s perspective. I would recommend this book to all aspiring writers out there- even though it is a fairly easy read, is gives you some point of view about writing, and life in general. As Verla Volante once said, in order to broaden your perspective, and improve as a writer, “Drop a pebble in a pond. Watch the ripples spread. That’s what you want your writing to do” (288).

-Daisy S., 7th grade

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