Book Review: Almost Home by Madisen Kuhn

almost home

A gorgeous poetry and prose collection that explores the meaning of “home” and the profound discovery of finding it within oneself.

Release Date: October 1, 2019

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Publisher: Gallery Books

Price: $14.99 (paperback)

Plot Summary:

In this stunning third collection from Madisen Kuhn, Madisen eloquently analyzes some of life’s universal themes within the framework of a house. Whether it’s the garden, the bedroom, or the front porch, Madisen takes you into her own “home,” sharing some of the most intimate parts of her life so that you might also, someday, feel free to share some of yours.

Filled with beautiful hand-drawn illustrations from Melody Hansen, this boldly intimate, preternaturally wise, and emotionally candid collection encourages you to consider what home means to you—whether it’s in the lush, green-lawned suburbs or a city apartment—and, more importantly, explores how you can find it even when home feels like it’s on the far-off horizon.

Grade: B+

Review:

For someone like me who has been on the move since I was born, reading a book that explores the meaning of home was very relatable. What’s the difference between a house and a home? And how do you know when one feels just like a house and what makes a home a home? The poetry is very heartfelt and emotional. For some home is a physical place or location, while for others the meaning of home is a person. What makes us feel at home? Ultimately, it’s the place where we feel safe.

One of the most poignant lines was, “I am jealous of what you have but not of who you are. Regardless it withers me.” I’m sure many people have often felt this way, feeling envious of what someone may have but not being particularly keen on the person in question.

Many of the poems explore the meaning of finding a home within a person. I think that we all yearn to feel at home with someone, although oftentimes that is merely a mirage and we’re far lonelier together than when we are alone.

This poetry collection really hits a nerve for me because of my incessant search to feel at home. If you’re a fan of Rupi Kaur or Amanda Lovelace, then this book is for you.

*Thank you so much to NetGalley and Gallery Books for the digital copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!

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Book Review: The Dead Girls Club by Damien Angelica Walters

dead

Red Lady, Red Lady, Show us your face….

Release Date: December 10, 2019

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Publisher: Penguin Random House

Price: $26.99 (hardcover)

Plot Summary:

In 1991, Heather Cole and her friends were members of the Dead Girls Club. Obsessed with the macabre, the girls exchanged stories about serial killers and imaginary monsters, like the Red Lady, the spirit of a vengeful witch killed centuries before. Heather knew the stories were just that until her best friend Becca began insisting the Red Lady was real–and she could prove it.

That belief got Becca killed.

It’s been nearly thirty years, but Heather has never told anyone what really happened that night–that Becca was right and the Red Lady was real. She’s done her best to put that fateful summer, Becca, and the Red Lady, behind her. Until a familiar necklace arrives in the mail, a necklace Heather hasn’t seen since the night Becca died.

The night Heather killed her.

Now, someone else knows what she did…and they’re determined to make Heather pay.

Grade: A-

Review:

I’ll be honest, when I read the first chapter, I wasn’t too intrigued although it opened with a very disturbing admission, that the protagonist Heather had killed her best friend when she was a tween. It wasn’t until the following chapter reverted to the THEN portion of the story that I was hooked. The novel is sectioned in alternating chapters with a chapter in the present and the following chapter in the past. By far, the THEN chapters are way more interesting because it shows Heather as a twelve-year-old, and being best friends with Becca, and also with Rachel and Gia, whom like her and Becca also enjoy a fascination for the macabre. The girls are intrigued by deaths and serial killers so much that they decide to create the Dead Girls Club. A club made to share scary stories or true crime stories. The girls usually got together for these meetings at the basement of an abandoned house.

That summer though, Becca becomes obsessed with telling the story of the Red Lady, a witch who was killed in an atrocious manner. At first, the girls are intrigued by the stories, especially Heather, but she begins to resent the stories when she notices how it has begun to affect Becca. Because Becca is convinced that the Red Lady is real and the only one who can save her from her alcoholic, abusive mother.

In the present time, Heather receives a pendant that Becca was wearing the night of her death in the mail, which causes her to spiral in paranoia. Did somebody see her kill Becca? Is the Red Lady after her?

This book is so deliciously twisty that you find yourself questioning what’s real and what isn’t. I wouldn’t necessarily call Heather an unreliable narrator but more it’s an exploration of devout friendship and how often stories in our youth can begin to feel real if we allow ourselves to believe in them.

I honestly wish that we had gotten more chapters from the past or that we could’ve gotten a whole book about the Red Lady (the story was simply very fascinating as it was horrific). I suggest this novel to anyone who loves thrillers with a dash of supernatural spookiness into the mix.

dead2

*Thank you so much to NetGalley and Penguin Random House for the digital copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!

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I Was Friends with J.T. Leroy: From Fame to Hoax

jtreal

Laura Albert as “Speedie” and Savannah Knoop as “J.T.” with Asia Argento in 2002

J.T. Leroy was one of the greatest literary hoaxes of the internet era. It’s also proof that reality is much more outrageous than fiction. Up until the New York Times’ Warren St. John uncovered the hoax in January 2006. Up until then, J.T. Leroy blazed the literary scene and was pretty much a rockstar with the celebrity friends (Bono, Madonna, Shirley Manson, Courtney Love, Michael Pitt, Gus Van Sant, and Asia Argento just to name a few). Shirley Manson even went so far as to write not one, but TWO songs inspired by J.T., Cherry Lips (Go Baby Go!) and Bleed Like Me. But J.T. Leroy wasn’t really who he claimed to be, the son of a truckstop whore in West Virginia and former junkie and prostitute himself. He wrote about his childhood in West Virginia in the book The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things and Sarah. Both books were published as fiction, and yet in interviews, he suggested that they were based on fact.

But up until 1999, no one had ever seen Leroy. In fact, Leroy never did book signings or readings. It wasn’t until sometime in 2000 that Leroy began to do public appearances, and he was always disguised by a wig and sunglasses.

In 2006, we found out exactly why he was always in disguise because J.T. Leroy never existed. Rather he was an “avatar” for writer Laura Albert who hired her sister-in-law at the time, Savannah Knoop to portray J.T. in public.

winonajt

Winona Ryder with Savannah Knoop as “J.T.”

How to best describe the moral outrage that many felt when they found out they had been “duped” by the duo were best said by Warren St. John when he stated, “The books are fiction but the marketing device to get us to read them was a lie, pure and simple.”

Recently, a film was made based on Savannah Knoop’s memoir, Girl Boy Girl: How I Became J.T. Leroy, where androgynous It-Girl Kristen Stewart brought to life both Knoop and the enigmatic Leroy, while a wildly unrecognizable Laura Dern played Laura Albert as well as Leroy’s so-called “manager,” the cockney-accented Speedie.

jtkris

Laura Dern playing Laura Albert as “Speedie” and Kristen Stewart playing Savannah Knoop as “J.T. Leroy”

In the film, Asia Argento was played by Diane Kruger (although they changed her name to Eva, probably to avoid any legal issues). Although the film excelled with these actress’ performance, the film lacked to explore how writing was therapeutic for Laura Albert and how that propelled her to hide behind J.T. Leroy. It also failed to address the fact that maybe J.T. wouldn’t have had so many people willing to be helpful towards him had he not been a young, white male. One of the most poignant moments in the movie was towards the end, when after the hoax was exposed and Savannah reveals to Laura Albert that she’s planning to write a book about her experience portraying J.T., Albert replies with, “Remember, just because you played a writer, doesn’t make you a writer.” A little too tongue in cheek.

For years, I’ve avoided writing about J.T. because for me he wasn’t just an author that I admired (he was so young and had already accumulated so many accolades and for someone like me who was an aspiring writer at the time, he was such a great inspiration), but he was also a friend. You see, back in the early 2000s there used to exist Yahoo mail groups, and somehow I found myself being in the one dedicated to J.T. Leroy, which was run by the actual author. At some point sometime in late 2001, he and I began to correspond. And our correspondence lasted up until The New York Times unveiled the hoax in 2006. He and I would talk about books, movies, cartoons (we were both obsessed with Spongebob Squarepants) and chocolates. In fact, on several occasions, I sent him Italian chocolates.

Watching the movie J.T. Leroy was kinda triggering in the sense that it reminded me of so many J.T. things that I had forgotten over the years. It also left me sad, because although he didn’t exist, in some ways he did and his memory remains alive in those that had a chance to be friends with him. Even after all these years, when I visited San Francisco in 2016, I found myself going to places that he had suggested I visit so many years ago (Ghirardelli Square being one of them), and also Polk Street (only because it was predominately featured in Leroy’s final book, Harold’s End.

polk street

Pictured at Polk Street in San Francisco with my cousin in August of 2016

In today’s age of social media, Laura Albert wouldn’t have been capable to pull off the hoax for very long. But for me, the fact that she not only managed to pull it off, but to market J.T. in such a way that had him picking up awesome gigs left and right (he wrote for Vogue, got to interview Billy Corgan’s short-lived band Swan for The Rolling Stone, and wrote the screenplay for Gus Van Sant’s Elephant). In other words, Laura Albert was a master class in marketing and promoting, and I think any author would benefit from being more like her in that regard.

laurabert

Laura Albert the writer using “J.T. Leroy” as her avatar

I know some people in the literary world still shun Laura Albert today, but no one can take away the fact that the novels she wrote provided solace to many of those that had succumbed to the child abuse she depicted in them. Maybe, the hoax went on for so long because we all wanted J.T. to be real, and in believing it, he ultimately became real.

I miss you, J.T. There’s a part of me that still wishes that someday you’ll find your voice again and we’ll get another book.

Here’s hoping, but I’m not holding my breath.

jtbono

Savannah Knoop as “J.T.” with Bono sometime in 2003

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Book Review: Life of the Party: Poems by Olivia Gatwood

life

I’m a good girl, bad girl, dream girl, sad girl

Release Date: August 20, 2019

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Publisher: Dial Press

Price: $11.90 (paperback)

Plot Summary:

Lauded for the power of her writing and having attracted an online fan base of millions for her extraordinary spoken-word performances, Olivia Gatwood now weaves together her own coming-of-age with an investigation into our culture’s romanticization of violence against women. At times blistering and riotous, at times soulful and exuberant, Life of the Party explores the boundary between what is real and what is imagined in a life saturated with fear. Gatwood asks, How does a girl grow into a woman in a world racked by violence? Where is the line between perpetrator and victim? In precise, searing language, she illustrates how what happens to our bodies can make us who we are.

Grade: A

Review:

Gatewood’s poetry collection is part memoir and partly inspired by True Crime. In each poem, she explores the meaning of becoming a woman and how men react to this sudden change from girlhood to womanhood. She also has an obsession with mistrusting men and believing that a man is going to kill her. Although, to be honest, what woman hasn’t thought about being killed by a man before? With the way True Crime depicts young girls and women always being victims of rape and murder, it’s no wonder that we grow up with this incessant paranoia. Her fear is very relatable if you’re a woman living pretty much anywhere in the world. Men abusing and killing women is a worldwide crisis and one that has only worsened over the years.

“Maybe I am tired
of hearing people talk about the murder
of girls like it is both beautiful
and out of the ordinary.”
-My Grandmother Asks Why I Don’t Trust Men

Gatewood explores the dark realms of her fears and tries to give voice to them through her poignant poetry. These poems are honest, raw, and sometimes quite dark. I recommend this book for all you that prefer your poetry to have a certain edge to is, but if you’re easily triggered then this collection won’t be for you.

*Thank you so much to NetGalley and Dial Press for the digital copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!

olivia

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Book Review: She’s the Worst by Lauren Spieller

worst

One Day. Two Sisters. All the Feelings.

Release Date: September 3, 2019

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Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

Price: $18.99 (hardcover)

Plot Summary:

Sisters April and Jenn haven’t been close in years. Jenn’s too busy with school, the family antique shop, and her boyfriend, and April would rather play soccer and hang out with the boy next door.

But when April notices her older sister is sad about staying home for college, she decides to do something about it. The girls set off to revive a pact they made as kids: spend an epic day exploring the greatest hits of their childhood and all that Los Angeles has to offer.

Then April learns that Jenn has been keeping a secret that could rip their family—and their feuding parents—apart. With only one day to set things right, the sisters must decide if their relationship is worth saving, or if the truth will tear them apart for good.

Grade: A

Review:

After weeks of reading very dark books, I decided that I needed something a little more light-hearted (meaning no deaths, destruction, gore, or overall chaos). Being an only child, I’ve always daydreamed about having siblings, and so I was very excited to read a book that focused on the relationship of these two very different sisters, overachiever Jenn, and sporty April.

Another reason why I was drawn to this book is that it takes place in Los Angeles, and it promised a road trip through the city so these sisters could reignite their bond. Living in the Los Angeles area myself, I liked to see what memorable places these girls would go to and if I had been to them myself. First off, I wasn’t aware that there were actual canals at Venice Beach, despite having been there many times (mostly at the boardwalk and beach area), so next time I’m there I’ll have to check that out.

What I enjoyed a lot about this book is that it did provide me the levity I needed, but that’s not to say that this book is fluff, cause it isn’t. This book very realistically portrays a family dynamics and the guilt you feel to try to keep your parents from killing each other when fighting (I probably related to Jenn’s referee role between her two parents a bit too much).

It was interesting to see how two sisters that used to be very close began to drift apart as they got older to the point that they no longer feel like they can even be friends. But the book explores ways how sometimes all you need is to find reasons why you loved that sibling in the first place and how it takes that first step to want to bridge the gap to have a good relationship again.

Everything and anything you can imagine does occur during this 24-hr. Span (the whole book takes place in just one day), and although it’s not a book that deals with mysteries, there are still several surprises that spring up that you didn’t imagine would. That’s to say that, this is a page-turner despite it not being a thriller. There are secrets that are kept hidden and revealed major life-changing decisions that take place.

I recommend this book if you’re into some light reading or love romantic comedies/sister bonding books. Because this novel has it all, especially a ton of feels.

*Thank you so much to NetGalley and Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers for the digital copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!

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Book Review: Love, Heather by Laurie Petrou

love heather

What you see isn’t always what you get.

Release Date: October 8, 2019

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Publisher: Penguin Random House

Price: 18.99 (paperback)

Plot Summary:

Stevie never meant for things to go this far. When she and Dee–defiant, bold, indestructible Dee–started all this, there was a purpose to their acts of vengeance: to put the bullies of Woepine High School back in their place. And three months ago, Stevie believed they deserved it. Once her best friend turned on her, the rest of the school followed. Stevie was alone and unprotected with a target on her back. Online, it was worse.

It was Dee’s idea to get them all back with a few clever pranks, signing each act Love, Heather–an homage to her favorite 80’s revenge flick. Despite herself, Stevie can’t help getting caught up in the payback, reveling in every minute of suffering. And for a while, it works: it seems the meek have inherited the school.

But when anonymous students begin joining in, punishing perceived slights with increasingly violent ferocity, the line between villain and vigilante begins to blur. As friends turn on each other and the administration scrambles to regain control, it becomes clear: whatever Dee and Stevie started has gained a mind–and teeth–of its own. And when it finally swallows them whole, one will reemerge changed, with a plan for one final, terrifying act of revenge.

Grade: C+

Review:

I really enjoyed the first 85% of this book so very much as it detailed the school life of Stevie who is on the verge of entering one of the popular cliques at school with her best friend Lottie when she makes a faux pas, and even her best friend of many years disowns her. That’s when the bullying begins. This is a very timely book as it discusses trans, transphobia, bullying, and school shootings. The book excelled in making teens sound like teens and having Stevie deal with bullying in a very realistic way for teens today (both in school and online).

But everything changes for Stevie when she befriends the loner, Dee who encourages her to rise up against the bullies and exact revenge. Soon, other kids are taking notice and the popular clique is getting what they deserve, although the author does explore the premise of the grey area where sometimes revenge becomes another form of bullying.

For anyone who has watched teen revenge movies ala Mean Girls, Heathers, and Carrie, you’ll love this book and cheer for our cinephile protagonist Stevie and Dee as they defy the high school hierarchy. My only issue with the book was that it got way too preachy towards the end of it. The message it was trying to convey was an important one, but it somehow sounded more like an after school special and so it took me out of the story.

I’m also confused by the fact that everyone keeps referring to this book as a thriller. First of all, we all know who started the Love, Heather revenge and nobody dies (I’m pretty sure there should be murder for a book to be considered a thriller, or at least a threat of murder, but that’s just me). Secondly, I’m getting really fed up with the plot twists for all books lately seem to be some form of mental illness. Mental illness shouldn’t be a plot twist, that’s just lazy writing! And lastly, Stevie never takes revenge on the one person that totally deserved it the whole time! Sure, they try to embarrass said person, but they never truly pay for their wrongdoings and that pisses me off when it’s a book about revenge.

I did enjoy the book a lot up to the plot twist and ending. The book is a page-turner because you do want to find out what is going to happen next, but all that climax for such a poor plot twist that was NEVER referenced in the conclusion since the protagonist conveniently decided not to mention it to anyone is what turned me off at the end. Which is sad, because I would’ve ranked this book higher had the last portion of the novel been better or more satisfying.

*Thank you so much to NetGalley and Penguin Random House for the digital copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!

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Book Review: Heroine by Mindy McGinnis

heroine

When I wake up, all my friends are dead.

Release date: March 12, 2019

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Price: $13.28 (hardcover)

Plot Summary:

When a car crash sidelines Mickey just before softball season, she has to find a way to hold on to her spot as the catcher for a team expected to make a historic tournament run. Behind the plate is the only place she’s ever felt comfortable, and the painkillers she’s been prescribed can help her get there.

The pills do more than take away pain; they make her feel good.

With a new circle of friends—fellow injured athletes, others with just time to kill—Mickey finds peaceful acceptance, and people with whom words come easily, even if it is just the pills loosening her tongue.

But as the pressure to be Mickey Catalan heightens her need increases, and it becomes less about pain and more about want, something that could send her spiraling out of control.

Grade: A

Review:

I’ll admit it. I am a little biased when it comes to Mindy McGinnis. Ever since I read The Female of the Species, I’ve been hooked on her writing. I love that she’s willing to tackle difficult subjects like rape culture, mental illness, or in this case opioid addiction. McGinnis’ writing is raw, direct, and not for the faint of heart. Things get gritty in her novels, and Heroine is one of her grittiest yet.

What makes this novel stand out from her previous ones is that her protagonist Mickey could be any teenager in America right now. Mickey doesn’t fall into addiction because of befriending the wrong crowd, peer pressure, or any of the past reasons why teens often found themselves dabbling in drugs. No, Mickey becomes an addict due to a car accident that requires her to have a serious surgery and her doctor later prescribes OxyContin to her.

At first Mickey ups her dosage because she’s in too much pain but still wants to perform like she did because of her car accident in her Softball position. She feels like she not only owes to herself, but her teammates, coach, and parents to get well soon and return to being the unbeatable Mickey Catalan. Only thing is, she soon discovers that OxyContin not only does it make her not feel the pain but it also chases away all of her social anxiety. Soon, Mickey is relying on the drugs more for her emotional well being than a physical need.

As a reader, although from the very beginning we know that it’s going to end very tragically for Mickey and her friends, we’re lulled into a strange sense of security, almost like the writing itself works like a drug. We, like Mickey, believe that the drugs will only help her, but it’s a slippery slope from performing like she used to, to becoming a full-fledged addict who has violent withdrawals anytime she has to do without her dose. The withdrawals are as gritty as they could possibly get.

McGinnis is never preachy in her books, she merely lays out the story’s events in a way that chronicles what someone in that position would possibly go through. And that’s what makes it the most terrifying because anyone of us could be Mickey, and anyone of us could befall Mickey’s fate.

This is a raw book about a timely crisis (with overdoses being the nation’s leading cause of death in the United States right now), I think it’s a book that any teen or adult could benefit from reading. But let me warn you, this journey isn’t a pretty one at all. But a highly educational one.

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Book Review: We Sold Our Souls by Grady Hendrix

souls

A girl with a guitar never has to apologize for anything.

Release Date: September 18, 2018

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Price: $18.49 (hard cover)

Plot Summary:

Every morning, Kris Pulaski wakes up in hell. In the 1990s she was lead guitarist of Dürt Würk, a heavy-metal band on the brink of breakout success until lead singer Terry Hunt embarked on a solo career and rocketed to stardom, leaving his bandmates to rot in obscurity.

Now Kris works as night manager of a Best Western; she’s tired, broke, and unhappy. One day everything changes—a shocking act of violence turns her life upside down, and she begins to suspect that Terry sabotaged more than just the band. Kris hits the road, hoping to reunite Dürt Würk and confront the man who ruined her life. Her journey will take her from the Pennsylvania rust belt to a celebrity rehab center to a satanic music festival. A furious power ballad about never giving up, We Sold Our Souls is one woman’s epic journey to reclaim her life—and save her soul.

Grade: A+

Review:

Ever wonder what happens to musicians that don’t make it? Kris Pulaski was the lead guitarist for the heavy metal band called Dürt Würk in the late 90’s. Now, nearly two decades later, she’s a night manager for a Best Western. In other words, it’s hell and her life sucks, while the band’s original lead singer, Terry Hunt reinvented himself with a new sound (nu-metal) and band (Koffin) and became a rock icon. When Kris see s a billboard advertising Terry’s farewell tour, something inside of her sparks Kris to leave her sad life behind and seek out the remaining members of Dürt Würk to get them to confront Terry with her and demand answers over what happened the night the band broke up.

This book was everything you’d want a horror and rock band novel to be. There’s action, gore, and passion for music all woven into a kickass tale of what it means to fight for your dreams and to never give up hope. There were many times where Kris could’ve just given up her mission, but she always prevailed no matter how difficult the task seemed or physically ailing she was. This book isn’t just about some Faustian deal gone awry, the heart of this book is to take a hard look at yourself and see if you’re living for what you believe in or lie Terry, you have sold your dreams in exchange of a cozy life.

I honestly love Kris so much in the novel that if it had been about anyone else, I don’t think the journey would’ve been as much fun or as meaningful. This book has seriously been one of the most fun to read this whole year, because even when there were moments of despair, there was always an underlining hope that maybe our heroine, Kris would save the day.

I highly suggest this book if you love horror, death metal, rock stars, and road trip stories.

*Thank you so much to NetGalley and Quirk Books for the digital copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!

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Book Review: Here There Are Monsters by Amelinda Bérubé

monsters

They took my sister.
I’ll take her back.

Release Date: August 6, 2019

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Price: $10.99 (paperback)

Plot Summary:

Sixteen-year-old Skye is done playing the knight in shining armor for her insufferable younger sister, Deirdre. And moving across the country seems like the perfect chance to start over as someone different.

In their isolated new neighborhood, Skye manages to fit in, but Deirdre withdraws from everyone, becoming fixated on the swampy woods behind their house and building monstrous sculptures out of sticks and bones.

Then Deirdre disappears.

And when something awful comes scratching at Skye’s window in the middle of the night, claiming Skye’s the only one who can save Deirdre, Skye knows she will stop at nothing to bring her sister home.

Grade: A-

Review:

I’ve waited a week after reading this novel to decide to write a review because I wanted to wait and see if my feelings for this strange little book would remain the same or somehow change. Thing is, I walked into this book thinking that I was getting something like The Blair Witch Project (or at the very least some sort of witchcraft) since it was advertised that way, but instead what I got was a strange tale of childhood monsters and magical kingdoms that come to life in the woods and a missing girl case.

So I’m going to divide this review into two sections: Pros & Cons.

Pros:

I love the dark, atmospheric imagery woven throughout the whole story. It was mighty creepy and rocked in all its dark gothic glory.

The characters reacted to situations in realistic ways (meaning that the characters didn’t give the protagonist Skye a free pass when she shared a very dark secret about her past).

It kept me invested in the story and I really wanted to know what was going to happen next.

Cons:

It wasn’t until halfway through the book that we finally received confirmation that something supernatural was indeed happening.

All the characters were unlikeable, except for William. The protagonist Skye, not only was she unlikeable, but she was also manipulative and had a cruel streak that she justified endlessly and blamed a lot of her actions on her sister.

Dead pets and other animals.

The ending. While it was realistic, it seemed to just end leaving a lot of questions unanswered.

Overall, this was a unique story and I did enjoy it, but I don’t know if it’ll be something that a lot of people could get into unless you’re into dark tales and don’t mind the somewhat slow pacing.

*Thank you so much to NetGalley and Sourcebooks Fire for the digital copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!

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Book Review & Author Interview: Wilder Girls by Rory Power

wilder

They told us to wait and stay alive.

Release Date: July 9, 2019

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Price: $12.91 (hardcover)

Publisher: Delacorte Press

Plot Summary:

It’s been eighteen months since the Raxter School for Girls was put under quarantine. Since the Tox hit and pulled Hetty’s life out from under her.

It started slow. First, the teachers died one by one. Then it began to infect the students, turning their bodies strange and foreign. Now, cut off from the rest of the world and left to fend for themselves on their island home, the girls don’t dare wander outside the school’s fence, where the Tox has made the woods wild and dangerous. They wait for the cure they were promised as the Tox seeps into everything.

But when Byatt goes missing, Hetty will do anything to find her, even if it means breaking quarantine and braving the horrors that lie beyond the fence. And when she does, Hetty learns that there’s more to their story, to their life at Raxter, than she could have ever thought true.

Grade: A

Review:

Sometime this past fall, I saw Rory Power tweeting the cover of her debut novel, Wilder Girls, and the moment I saw it and read the blurb, I knew that I had to read it. Luckily, NetGalley hooked me up with an ARC cause I don’t know if I could’ve lasted till July to read it. This book fits nicely into my two favourite book genres, body horror and boarding school stories. I don’t know why I love boarding school stories, probably cause as an only child, I always envisioned going to one and being surrounded by lots of girls my own age. Fun fact: I almost got sent to a Catholic boarding school once, when my exasperated mum was tired of my teenage rebellious way and thinking it’d be a punishment, she promptly called a school up (I was ecstatic, to say the least). Sadly, not even the nuns wanted to deal with a rebellious teen, since they pretty much told my mum that I was better off staying home in a “loving environment” than far from my family. Still, to this day I kinda miss not having had the boarding school experience. So now, I vicariously live that experience through books about them.

But Raxter isn’t just any ordinary boarding school. Nope. This boarding school is located on an island that pretty much has nothing else on it but the school. So total isolation. The perfect setting for a group of girls who are having to deal with being quarantined by the military after contracting a disease they call the Tox. Now, the fascinating and maybe disturbing thing about the Tox is that it’s a disease that manifests in different ways depending on the individual. So one girl has a scaled hand (which I wasn’t sure if we were to envision scales like a fish or more like a dragon), another has an eye closed shut with plants growing inside of it, and another is growing a second spine. The body horror in this novel isn’t for the faint of heart, so if you’re a little on the queasy side, just keep that in mind.

But what made this novel memorable to me wasn’t the unexplainable horror that had taken over the girls’ bodies, but rather, the resilience these girls had, and strong bonds of friendship. On several occasions, it would’ve been easier for the protagonist, Hetty to simply give up on her friends and herself and just be. But she doesn’t give up, even when things are looking rather bleak (and boy do things get bleak fast in this novel!).

I know some have made comparisons of this novel to be the feminist response to Lord of the Flies, however, the fact that both novels have an island setting is the only similarity I could find, since Wilder Girls isn’t really a novel about the students created their own sense of structure as there are still adults who supervise the girls. Wilder Girls is more a celebration of sisterhood in the face of adversity, and the lengths one would go to in the name of friendship.

It’s a wild and dangerous ride, but one that is worthwhile.

*Thank you so much to NetGalley and Delacorte Press for the digital copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!

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Short Q & A with the Author:

Why did you select an island as the location for Raxter? Is it to play upon the sense of isolation?

Choosing an island as the setting was mostly down to instinct and initial inspiration – a visit I made to an island in North Carolina was the first thing that made me want to write this book – but the more I worked on the story, the more it became clear to me that there was really no other place to set the book. I love books with closed communities, places where nobody leaves and nobody new ever arrives, so of course I wanted to write one of my own. I also think so much of Hetty’s story is about being on your own and having to fend for yourself. Setting the book on an island and physically cutting the girls off from the outside world was definitely a way to take that feeling and make it literal.

The reader only received tiny details about the girls’ lives before Raxter. It almost felt like they preferred staying at a boarding school rather than being home. Was Raxter more home to girls like Hetty and Byatt than their actual homes?

For Hetty and Byatt, I think Raxter is more home to them. They both find something at the school, and in their friendship with each other, that defines them, I think, and so compared to the lives they left behind, I think Raxter is what really matters. There are probably other girls at the school that don’t feel similarly, but as far as our main characters go, the idea of going back to their old lives isn’t all that relevant to them.

The fascinating thing about the Tox (the disease that has overtaken the island) is that it manifests in different ways in different people. Was the way the Tox affected the girls attributed to their character? For example, Mr. Harker we know he was a gardener for the school, and when we see him infected, he’s got plants growing inside of him. As for Byatt having a double spine, it seemed almost an indication of how she needed to grow a backbone in order to stand up to her mother. 

I love that interpretation! Some of what the Tox does is just based off aspects of my research that I thought were cool – Taylor, for instance, gets a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it reference to her mutation, which is based off the lateral line you find in fish, a physical feature that helps them coordinate motion when they’re swimming in a school. But some of it also ties into character. Reese, for instance, is a really guarded person, so of course, I had to give her literal armor-like scales.

I’m someone who’s interested in books or movies that explore the theme of body horror whether it comes to shapeshifting like in Ginger Snaps or Blue My Mind, or a change that begins manifesting when you’re a teenager that you have no control over like in Teeth. Why do you think that YA is the best genre to explore body horror?

I think YA is so much about agency, about taking control of your own life for the first time, or about finding yourself unable to do that. For a lot of young people, this ties in a lot with body autonomy. So I think thematically YA lends itself to body horror, which explores physical transformation and a loss of that physical autonomy. They dovetail together really well and lend meaning to each other.

I know some may draw similarities between your novel and the novel Annihilation, but what inspired you exactly to tell this sort of tale?

My inspiration really came from the landscape, and from wanting to explore a specific setting and atmosphere. My very first draft had the same basic plot, but I was using it mostly as an excuse to write about trees and describe the ocean. I read Annihilation, which is an absolute favorite after I’d written that draft, and it really taught me how to narrow my focus and find the heart of the story that was hiding in the mess I’d made. (If you haven’t read Annihilation yet, you must!)

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