Monday, November 26, 2012

Review: Wild Girls by Mary Stewart Atwell

Wild Girls
by Mary Stewart Atwell
Publisher: Scribner
Publication Date: October 16, 2012
Pages: 288
Source: Publisher

Daringly imagined, atmospheric, and original, Wild Girls is an exhilarating debut—part coming-of-age story and part supernatural tale about girls learning their own strength. Kate Riordan fears two things as she grows up in the small Appalachian town of Swan River: that she’ll be a frustrated townie forever or that she’ll turn into one of the mysterious and terrifying wild girls, killers who start fires and menace the community. Struggling to better her chances of escaping, Kate attends the posh Swan River Academy and finds herself divided between her hometown—and its dark history—and the realm of privilege and achievement at the Academy. Explosive friendships with Mason, a boy from the wrong side of town, and Willow, a wealthy and popular queen bee from school, are slowly pulling her apart. Kate must decide who she is and where she belongs before she wakes up with cinders at her fingertips.

Mary Stewart Atwell has written a novel that is at once funny and wise and stunningly inventive. Her wild girls are strange and fascinating creatures—a brilliant twist on the anger teenage girls can feel at their powerlessness—and a promise of the great things to come from this young writer.
(from Goodreads)

My Thoughts
Why I wanted to read Wild Girls (from my Waiting on Wednesday post):
  • a coming-of-age story
  • set in a small Appalachian town
  • a brilliant twist on the anger teenage girls can feel at their powerlessness
Wild Girls exceeded any expectations that I had (which were pretty high). It wasn't the angst-filled drama that description led me to believe it to be. It is part mystery, part coming-of-age and very intense throughout. Anticipating when the wild girls may appear and what brought them about was enough to keep my on edge for most of the time I was reading it. Up until the very end, I didn't really know what the wild girls were for sure.  Were they possessed by some higher dark power? Were they witches learning their own strengths and abilities? Or were they just menacing girls acting out for attention? I was guessing, pondering, and speculating throughout and not knowing for sure was just as thrilling as realizing what they were.
Wild Girls takes place at a boarding school in the small desolate town of Swan River. It would seem to be an unusual place to send the daughters of wealthy families before sending them off to college or out into society. It's not the most prestigious school or the most sophisticated town, but it has it's own history and its own backwoods culture. The setting was crucial to the story and it began to seem as though Swan River was its own character playing an active role in what happened to these girls.
One of my favorite parts of Wild Girls was the folklore strung throughout and the use of histories and ancient myths. Even the stories of the wild girls who murdered people or set places on fire, were passed down through years and years of oral history. Tales told by someone who saw what happened or knew someone who was a wild girl,  but never from the wild girls themselves. These second party accounts always kept them a mystery - never to be completely understood. And still what I didn't like was that Kate knew someone who became a wild girl, her sister - Maggie, and she couldn't ever get a complete explanation of why she turned.
As I said before Wild Girls is part mystery, part thriller, and part coming of age. But I think at the core of it, Wild Girls takes a close examination at relationships. Whether they are familial, romantic, or friendships - they are filled with expectations, disappointments, compromise, and acceptance. Kate is the focus of many of these relationships and seeing her navigate through them and find her place and find herself was worth every moment spent reading this book.
Wild Girls is more wonderful than I've put into words here. I'd recommend it to any fan of mythology, folklore, mystery, young adult, and Appalachian literature.  It would be a great book club selection and I will be recommending it to mine. 
Disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.  I was not compensated in any way other than the book provided. Thoughts and opinions are my own.



1 comment:

  1. Awesome Review! I remember this book around the time it was coming out, but then nothing. I wanted to read it, living in the same area as you and fascinated by the oral traditions of storytelling. I might have to pick this one up! You make it sound amazing!



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