I have wanted to read Fiona Wood ever since people were talking about Six Impossible Things when it first came out. I waited impatiently for it to be picked up in America. And for some reason it still hasn't been. But I was more than happy to jump on the chance to read Wildlife instead. I'm happy to report that all the praise Wood received for her writing was well deserved, and I can only hope this being published in the US means Six Impossible Things has a chance now too.
During a semester in the wilderness, sixteen-year-old Sib expects the tough outdoor education program and the horrors of dorm life, but friendship drama and an unexpected romance with popular Ben Capaldi? That will take some navigating.
New girl Lou has zero interest in fitting in, or joining in. Still reeling from a loss that occurred almost a year ago, she just wants to be left alone. But as she witnesses a betrayal unfolding around Sib and her best friend Holly, Lou can't help but be drawn back into the land of the living.
Wildlife is a character study. It focuses on two girls, Sibylla and Louisa, who are experiencing opposite phases of life. Lou is devastated after the death of her boyfriend, Fred. She was a happy, focused, and intelligent young girl with dreams and happiness pouring out of her. She knew who she was and was content in her world. Now her world has been shattered and her dreams left in pieces. She is still fiercely intelligent and owns who she is as a person. All her sadness, grief, anxiety, and fear are part of who she is now. At the same time she hasn't really stopped living. It's subtly there in the words she speaks to others, how she still engages in the world, looks at it with critical eyes, and is making plans for her future. Sibylla,on the other hand, is not and never has been really sure of who she is. Yes, she is smart, on the nerdy side, a girl who doesn't like parties or being the center of attention. But thanks to a one off modeling job and the social climbing plans of her best friend Holly, Sib has the chance to enter the world of cool kids she hasn't really been a part of before. Bound together by being assigned to the same house and through their mutual friendship with Michael, a new friend for Lou and Sib's oldest friend, the girls are drawn toward each other too. Through their stories Wood gives an accurate picture of the heartaches of growing up and the intricacies involved in navigating the minefield that is the high school social world while you're still trying to figure out who you are and what you want.
Wildlife is not just a study of these two girls. Through them it is also a study of the people around them. Holly, Sib's best friend, is a conniving needy attention seeker who uses Sib and is just plain ugly to most everyone else. Yet you can also see how and why she is the way she is and how lost and vulnerable she is at the same time. Michael, the boy who is friends with both girls, is super smart, talented, and driven. He is a rock to both of them, but also has is points of weakness. Ben Capaldi, Sib's boyfriend, is the golden boy. He isn't as nuanced as the other characters, but I do like how he is so typically teenage boy. In fact, that is a plus for everyone in the book. They are very much teens, and through their eyes all the struggles, ridiculous choices, amazing intelligence, and thirst for the world that can be found in teens is exhibited.
Female sexuality and how teen girls are just as much sexual beings as their male counterparts is a theme that is important to this novel and explored well. Both Lou and Sib are (or have been) sexually active. This is another way in which the two foil each other. Lou's sexual relationship with her boyfriend was thought out, discussed, planned for. Sib is an example of how one can find oneself going from "we need to talk about this but I like how you make me feel even though I'm not really ready" to "whoa I just had sex". The conversations the other students have about everyone else's sex life is realistic as well.
I enjoyed Wildlife very much. While slow moving, it is a book that does characterization so well you feel you are drawn into their lives completely.
Content Warning: sex scenes only barely described, drugs and alcohol used by some at parties, strong language
I read an e-galley provided by the publisher, Poppy, via Edelweiss. Wildlife's US release date is September 16th.