Sapphic Sci-Fi Spooks in “Wilder Girls” Novel

Jill Palmer, Staff Writer

“Some days it’s fine. Others it nearly breaks me. The emptiness of the horizon, and the hunger in my body, and how will we ever survive this if we can’t survive each other?”—Wilder Girls (2019) by Rory Power.

Wilder Girls takes place at Raxter School for Girls, a girls-only boarding school located on an island somewhere off the coast of Maine. One day, a mysterious illness known as the Tox infects everyone on the island, killing most of the teachers and making the students’ bodies strange and foreign. Then Raxter is quarantined by the government, and the girls must simply stay put within the walls of the school as they wait for a cure.

When I first read the Goodreads summary, I thought that Wilder Girls would be a zombie book. It has many of the fixings of a zombie novel: a mysterious illness that mutates the girls’ bodies in strange and horrific ways which can kill the infected girl or turn her into a feral monster; scientists holed up in a creepy hidden lab, desperately scrambling for a cure. But it isn’t quite a zombie book—it lacks a few of the typical zombie tropes one would expect to see in a novel like this. Namely, the monsters in Wilder Girls are less flesh-hungry walking corpses and more nature-themed mutants with an incredible thirst for violence. It is this difference that sets Wilder Girls apart from other works with similar themes. I found this novel to be a remarkably fresh take on the typical zombie narrative.

We’re about a quarter of the way into the book before we hit the big mystery: where is Byatt? On a secluded island, isolated from the world and surrounded by dangerous, wild beasts, how does one girl just disappear? The book is structured in such a way that, while we see the situation play out from Byatt’s point of view, the reader is still left in the dark about what exactly is happening to her and why. While I thought the novel took a bit too long to get to this major conflict, the mystery of what happened to Byatt is framed in a way that I found especially compelling. Wilder Girls does an excellent job of making you want to keep reading.

Wilder Girls was described as “sapphic horror,” which is a book genre I was not familiar with prior to picking up this book. It means, simply, a horror novel about lesbians. That being said, the relationship between two of the main characters is well-developed and sweet—everything I would expect from a young adult novel. Additionally, while Wilder Girls certainly has a lot of horror elements—graphic descriptions of body horror and mutated deer with razor sharp teeth—part of me wonders if “horror” is the right category.

I feel that Wilder Girls would find a better home within the realm of science fiction, and not just because the term “sapphic sci-fi” is catchy. Thematically, Wilder Girls feels most similar to The Girl with All the Gifts by M.R Carey, because of the ways both books utilize real science to explain fictional afflictions. The girls’ mutations—seemingly making them more animal-like in appearance—also makes the book seem more reminiscent of science fiction YA. Perhaps Wilder Girls most truthfully lays somewhere in the murky in-between of horror and science fiction, something difficult to define. For a fan of both horror and sci-fi, this is a benefit. For someone looking for a horror novel to read for spooky month, however, Wilder Girls may not be what you’re looking for.

 

 

BEHIND THE STORY

  1. Why did we report on this?
    • Jill is taking the class “Zombie Nation” this semester and thus has been very interested in sci-fi/horror novels. She was particularly intrigued by the premise of the book.
  2. How did we get the information to report on this?
    • Jill got information by reading the book!
  3. How can the reader get more information on the topic covered?
    • Jill suggests taking Zombie Nation with Carol Peters.
  4. Did we miss something?
    • Let us know! Contact Jill ([email protected]) with any further questions, comments, or concerns about this article, or to suggest further articles about this topic.