Sib isn’t a model, isn’t interested in modeling, and isn’t a conventional beauty, but her advertising executive godmother sees SOMETHING in her, and suddenly, her face is “plastered all over a massive billboard at St. Kilda junction.” Shortly thereafter, Ben Capaldi, the most popular boy in school, sees that same SOMETHING, too...but Sib isn’t quite sure if that SOMETHING he sees has to do with her, or with the perfume ad.
Lou is still reeling from the sudden death of her beloved boyfriend, Fred. Rather than participate in her school’s exchange program with France—she couldn’t bear to leave the country, to leave Fred—she’s exchanged schools entirely, just in time to participate in Crowthorne Grammar’s year-10 “outdoor education” term, where, as she puts it, “you learn to be jolly and jolly well fend for yourselves and run up a jolly mountain and learn which way’s north and how to make a fire and incinerate some jolly marshmallows.”
Neither of them is particularly looking forward to it—Sib, because she’s not all that into the outdoors, and Lou because she doesn’t remember what happy feels like—but neither of them predicts just how life-changing their nine weeks at Mount Fairweather will be.
Fiona Wood’s Wildlife is stronger line-by-line than it is as a whole. The dialogue, the clarity of the two narrative voices, and the interactions between the characters (especially in the cabin scenes, which portray group power dynamics so accurately that I wondered if Wood had a background in anthropology) were all spot-on. Sib’s conflicting feelings about her relationship with Ben; her fracturing friendship with her bestie Holly; her closeness/distance with her other best friend, Michael; Lou’s slow re-entry into the world via her reluctant interest in the various dramas playing out in her cabin; the parallels to Othello—not too obvious, not at all strained, no didactic AHA! moment for the characters, they’re just there for the reader to pick up on or not—and the incorporation of various poems and music references: all excellent, all noteworthy. The only weak links are in the depictions of Holly and Ben, who, despite the reasons given for their behavior, never really rise above their stock character roots, and that, unfortunately, diminishes the overall impact of Sib’s arc.
Wood’s first book, Six Impossible Things—which is set before Wildlife, and stars Lou’s friend Dan—isn’t currently available in the United States, but you’d better believe I’m going to special order it ASAP, even if I have to have it shipped all the way from Australia.
Girls of No Return, by Erin Saldin
Though it’s much darker than Wildlife (much, MUCH darker), it’s also set at a wilderness camp, and also deals with friendship and betrayal and guilt and healing.
The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, by E. Lockhart
Frankie’s tone is closer to Wildlife, as is the love of language and the feminist thread, but none of those elements were what made me make the connection. It was that both books were about the aftermath of a BLOOM: because of Sib’s physical maturation, the ways in which her peers see (and treat) her change drastically.
If she isn't writing Bookshelves of Doom or running the show at her local library, Leila Roy might be making stuff for her Etsy shop while rewatching Veronica Mars, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Babylon 5, Black Books or Twin Peaks. Well, that or she’s hanging out on Twitter. Or both.