Wildlife by Fiona Wood ( web | tweet )
Publication Date: September 16, 2014
Publisher: Poppy/Little, Brown for Kids
Target audience: Young adult
Keywords: Australia, friendship, sex, relationships, nature, grief
Format read: Borrowed from the library.
Summary: Sib and Lou are two students living in the wilderness for the semester while dealing with the past, old friends, and new love.
I was tempted to read Wildlife because the reviews have been such a mixed bag. Here are some of my thoughts organized in a pros & cons list:
- The setting. I haven’t read another book where students took a semester to live in the wilderness. It very much felt like a camp (but with grades), and I enjoyed hanging out in a new setting and taking part in all the nature-y and physical activities that were part of their every day routines. (I don’t know if I ever would have survived a semester like this.)
- Lou is dealing with some very heavy grief. She’s also brand new to this school, and is able to shrink in herself as she deals with a tragedy that totally shattered her world. I loved how realistically Fiona Wood handled this storyline. Lou has to come to terms with so much without a familiar shoulder to lean on. She’s independent but hurting, and I liked how her story was broken down in diary entries as a way for her to work through these hefty emotions.
- I felt similarly about the sex in this book. Sib, who is dealing with some new treatment from her classmates because of a modeling gig she has, engages in a secret relationship with one of the most popular guys at school and she has so many questions about deciding to take the next step and what it means to her. This was some of the best inner dialogue I’ve seen about sex in a young adult book, and I wish there was more of it. What do you do when you think sex is a big deal and your partner doesn’t?
- Michael — Sib’s true blue best friend who is sort of pushed to the side while she pursues other interests and also a new friend to Lou. He’s quiet but super solid and I had a lot of love for him throughout the story.
- Short chapters! Again, something I rarely see in the books I’m reading but very welcome when I’m reading during lunch and only have a short amount of time to jump back into the story. It felt like I always had a stopping point. (Plus the chapter number art was beautiful.)
- The pacing was a little slow. Wildlife takes place over a semester and because all of the chapters were so introspective, there was very little action. I kept wondering what was going to break the book wide open, and it took awhile. (Even when it got there, it felt more like a tiny fire than a full on explosion.)
- I was reminded a lot of my reading of Paper Airplanes from a few weeks ago. Two girls become friends, one of them has a toxic best gal pal, and there seems to be only a little bit of time for a full-fledged friendship to develop. It was obvious Sib and Lou could help each other (especially because Sib’s best friend is a piece of work) and I wanted the seed for their friendship to be planted sooner so maybe they could be farther along as I came up to the ending.
Final thoughts: Wildlife is written so beautifully, and I loved the supporting character that nature played in the story. The author did such a commendable job bringing to life two girls going through so much: one dealing with questions of her own limits (in relationships and friendship) and another working to make peace with the past. It was real and emotional but also hopeful. Definitely looking forward to reading more of Wood’s work in the future.