Review: Wildlife by Fiona Wood

I received this book for free from Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: Wildlife by Fiona WoodWildlife by Fiona Wood
Published by Poppy on September 16, 2014
Genres: Contemporary
Pages: 400
Format: ARC
Source: Publisher
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five-stars

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 love that gets complicated? 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.

In this tender, funny story of first love, good friendship, and going a little bit wild, Fiona Wood introduces two unforgettable girls who discover that before you can be true to yourself, you have to figure out exactly who you are.

Wildlife falls into that rare category of book where, if someone described it to me, I’d probably be like “eh, idk, man, that doesn’t really sound like my thing. It’s really sad, and there’s very little romance; don’t let the couple on the cover fool you into thinking this a shippy book because it’s not. However, despite all the compelling reasons why I might not have been into this book, I loved it.

The writing in this book is brilliant. Multiple first person POVs are really hard to truly pull off. Lots of people do it decently, but it’s rare to see an author accomplish it as handily as Fiona Wood has here. It’s even harder when the POV characters are the same gender, as is the case here (remember, it’s not a romance). Both Sib and Lou have such powerful, unique voices, and I’m endlessly impressed with the craft of this book. It’s a great example of narrative voice and multiple POV. *applauds*

For whatever reason, Sib’s school does a semester in a wilderness education program. There are scaled back classes, camping, and lots of forced physical exercise. I don’t know if this is a typical Australian thing or not. It didn’t seem like it was mandated for Lou; she signed up because her mom had gone. There’s not too much focus on what they’re actually doing, as this book is much more about emotions, but there is attention paid specially to solo camping and the way it opens them up to really think.

Sib’s the more outgoing of the two, and she’s in a period of transition. She’s gone from being an ugly ducking to a swan, rather suddenly. After getting selected for a one-off ad campaign, she’s now semi-popular at her school, getting invited to parties, and kissing a popular boy she’s always crushed on. While Sib does like the attention, she’s also frustrated by the fact that it feels so disingenuous, as though it’s for someone else. Sib has no intention of being a model, and she’s not the person people now think she is.

Her plot line is all about toxic friendship and figuring out what you actually want versus what society/friends might want you to want. Holly once dumped Sib as a friend to be with the popular crowd, but she same back when the popular crowd pushed her back out. Holly’s clearly struggling with the fact that her former DUFF is now getting a ton of attention, alternating between trying to ride that fame and trying to tear Sib down. It’s a classic toxic friendship, and Sib even recognizes it, but she’s not entirely sure what to do about it. Wood makes Holly, if not sympathetic, understandable by showing how Holly’s mother treats her; it’s important to show that mean girls are people too, and that all of that is coming from somewhere.

One of the things Holly does is push Sib towards Ben Capaldi (the crush Sib kissed at the party). Sib’s not so sure she wants to be in a relationship right now, especially since she doubts his actual interest in her. Holly’s constantly telling Sib what she should be doing as a girlfriend, while simultaneously spending much more time with Ben than Holly herself does. You can tell Sib’s not actually that into him (minus the kissing), because she has very little jealousy despite this being a situation where it would be pretty understandable. It’s so distressing the way Holly pushes Sib to move their relationship along to places Sib’s not ready for it to go, but I’m always glad when YA books show this peer pressure because pop culture generally focuses on a guy pressuring a girl for sex and ignores that friends might be just as bad or worse.

As a contrast to Holly, there’s Sib’s childhood friend Michael. He’s probably on the spectrum somewhere, and he doesn’t have a lot of friends. He’s very much not popular, and he loves everything about Sib. He saw her before, and the billboard means nothing to him. Over the course of the story, she realizes she’s been taking him for granted, and that’s another really important message.

Then there’s Lou, whose voice I fell in love with even harder. Lou’s a bitch, and she’s angry, and she’s sad. Her boyfriend died in a tragic accident; he was her first everything, and they were so in love. She’s forced to be in therapy, and she hates being forced to talk about everything. Her narrative is the journal she’s been told to write, and, at first, her POV is just frustration, sadness, and anger, but she begins to open up in her journal, which clearly does help.

Lou’s assigned to the same building as Holly and Sib, and, at first, she wants nothing to do with anyone. She eventually befriends Michael. In her journaling, she narrates the tensions of the cabin, and she becomes interested especially in Sib and quickly comes to abhor Holly. Lou’s a total delight, because she doesn’t let Holly get away with any bullshit. It’s very emotionally satisfying to read her sections after Sib’s, since Sib can be a bit of a pushover. There’s much less drama to Lou’s POV, but there’s a lot of emotional power to it, as she slowly reinvests in life and learns to care about things again.

While I would have liked the ending to be more overtly happy (it’s not unhappy but it’s certainly not an HEA), it feels very true to the emotional journeys, and I had so many feelings. This is a truly beautiful book, and I’d recommend it to anyone who enjoys YA contemporary, even if it’s a bit out of your comfort zone.

Favorite Quote:

My heart is its own fierce country where no one else is welcome.

Tl;dr – Review in a GIFfy:

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