A prestigious school. An abandoned island. A deadly disease. Secrets beyond comprehension. These elements present themselves in suspenseful and exciting ways in “Wilder Girls” a science fiction horror novel written by Rory Power. The story follows the Raxter School for Girls, a coveted boarding school off the coast of the United States. The story picks up 18 months after the island had been put under quarantine due to the Tox, a deadly virus that mutates the environment and the people within it. We follow the few survivors of the plague after the teachers and several girls have already succumbed to the Tox. As the story progresses, we discover secrets behind the military’s role in managing the disease, and the true meaning of finding a cure.
Hetty, one of the few survivors, lives within the school, bickering for rations with the other students and taking care of her friends Byatt and Reese. As she looks around at the fellow students, she describes the horrifying effects of the Tox: extra body parts, vines growing out of the body, and shocking spasms that leave each victim even more distraught than before. These girls are sitting ducks, slowly decomposing while waiting for the CDC and the outside world to provide a cure while donating occasional rations. As the months go by, the students and few remaining teachers develop a hierarchy of power in order to keep order and safety on school grounds. A quarantine is set both on the island and the school, only allowing certain students to venture into the dangerously mutated forest. We see bonds broken and formed between young women as they struggle to survive and save those they care most about, making a life in their hopeless situation, surrounded by death and decay.
Themes of sacrifice and selfishness develop through the novel as their situation at Raxter worsens. When Byatt, Hetty’s closest friend and almost sister, goes missing after a flare-up, her and Reese risk the security of their other classmates to go beyond the fence and search for her, uncovering deadly and scarring secrets that reveal the true fate of the island’s residents. Hetty’s careful, loving, and protective nature fails in the final critical moments, revealing her true ambitions as she is forced to decide between the group she loves and the people she cannot live without: Reese and Byatt. Hetty remains one of my favorite literary characters due to what may seem like backwards character development but is actually a revelation of her flawed heroic nature that exists her entire life. “Wilder Girls” does a phenomenal job of displaying the flaws of even the greatest heroes and sacrificers.
I read this book for the first time in summer 2019, and found it a fascinating story that I stayed up all night to finish reading. I recommend this book to anyone that enjoys dystopian YA fiction, horror, or any story with dynamic and complex characters that showcase true universal themes.