Thank you to NetGalley and Delacorte Press for sending me a free advanced reader copy of this book for an honest review. Wilder Girls debuts July 9th.
This is one of those books that grips you hard from the first sentence, sinks its teeth into you, shakes you around, then has you gasping for air on the floor by the time you hit the last page. Seriously, Wilder Girls is an insane, intense ride, and I hope beyond hope that it ushers in a flood of YA weird fiction and body horror. When I picked it up, I already had a sneaking suspicion that this book was going to be my kinda thing because Jeff VanderMeer, king of the weird, is one of the blurbers. I was not disappointed; this is a book to buy on release day and devour in twenty-four hours.
The premise of the book is that a bizarre, unprecedented plague called the Tox has infested an island home to an all-girls boarding school. The Tox causes those it infects to mutate, perhaps by growing gills, claws, an extra spine, etc. The schoolgirls and the sparse crew of staff members remaining on the island have developed a system of survival, but when one girl goes missing and her friend determines to find her, everything is thrown into chaos.
Wilder Girls pulls no punches. The prose is raw and has so much forward momentum that it is a very difficult book to put down. I will say that the discovery and explanation at the end of the hows and the whys of the Tox was a bit disappointing to me. It came a bit out of left field; I was hoping for something less scientific and more just “this weird, inexplicable thing is happening and we can’t figure out why and now we just have to deal with it.” My opinion when it comes to weird fiction is that explanations take away from the mystique.
But even so, I basically adored this book and would hope for a movie version if I weren’t so sure Hollywood would fuck it up. Unless maybe we can get a return to practical effects à la John Carpenter’s The Thing… How amazing would that be? A girl can dream…
I’ll definitely be awaiting this author’s next book, whether it’s a sequel to Wilder Girls (would actually be satisfied with there not being a sequel, just to preserve some ambiguity in the story) or something else.
This week I returned once more to Tor to look at another piece of short fiction. I was especially intrigued to read a story by Jeff VanderMeer, since he’s actually been on my radar for a while as one of the editors of The Weird. Side note that his wife, Ann VanderMeer, also edited The Weird, as well as some of the other Tor stories I’ve read for Short Tuesday thus far, plus edited this story as well, which adds a whole different layer of interesting. You can read the short story for free here…
I’ll be honest—I’m a bit flummoxed by this story! It documents one man’s interactions with an alien force that has engulfed the Earth; the narrative focuses more on the MC’s discovery of the world and the realization of what is happening than on any kind of plot. The aliens are of the parasitic variety, rather than laser gun toting sort, and the focus throughout is on the natural progression of the parasite—what happens to Earth’s flora and fauna, as well as how the parasite (called the “story-creature”) physically and mentally manifests itself in the MC.
And while I stood there in the shadows of the moonless night, beyond the street lamps, beyond the circling moths and with the nighthawks gliding silent overhead…while I stood there and pleaded, the story-creature sprouted out of the top of my skull in a riot of wildflowers, goldenrod, and coarse weeds.
There are many instances throughout where it’s difficult to get a sense of what’s happening, which adds to the story in my opinion. With a kind of Lovecraftian flair, the MC is presented with beings and creatures that don’t really make sense, and all he can do is relay what’s happening as best he can based on his human capacities. At the same time he is uncovering truths about himself; contact with the alien parasite has changed him in irreparable, unexpected ways.
I think this is the kind of story that really needs a few reads. The prose has such a driving momentum that you kind of can’t help reading onward, even as your brain is trying to parse what’s happening, so I felt like there was quite a lot I was missing. Even so, I like to think that there would be so many unknowns in the event of actual extraterrestrial contact that this story conveys that uncertain feeling exceedingly well. Who knows—maybe I’ll read through it again sometime and see how the story hits me a second time around.