This book seemed like it should have been so much more interesting than it was. Kate Riordan, our narrator and protagonist, lives in Swan River, a small, slowly dying Appalachian town that has only survived as long as it has thanks to the prestigious all-girls boarding school thats just outside the town limits. But Swan River is also known for its wild girls: killers who start fires and menace the community (official book review words there).
Which sounds pretty interesting, right? Like appalachian folklore mixed in with modern society, except where the folklore actually is true. Unfortunately, Wild Girls turns out to be nothing more than second tier young adult fiction with healthy chunks of casual brutality mixed in for good measure. I’m assuming the violence is what kept this from being truly listed as a young adult book since I don’t know why this would be distinguished as adult fiction otherwise.
Kate’s a senior for most of the book. She feels out of place at the Academy where the other girls spend their summer vacations learning Mandarin in Taiwan or sight-seeing ruins in Greece. Their lives are planned by their parents and most are expected to marry rich, successful men soon after graduating. Kate’s one of the few from Swan River and is only there because her mother, a secretary at the school, gets a reduced tuition rate. The only other girl from Swan River is Willow, a rich, beautiful, and charismatic girl that Kate immediately befriends. At least we’re told she’s charismatic. She didn’t seem to be to me. To me, she, along with most of the other characters, seemed flat. Empty. Boring. Not likable, not hateable. Just boring.
Perhaps this story didn’t work for me because the genres were not blended well. Mostly this is a standard coming of age story with the usual teenage drama and “finding herself” kind of stuff you would expect from such a thing (never my cup of tea, even in the most open of moods). The bits about the wildgirls are a dark undertone to the story but it never seems very urgent or very dangerous. Which is strange because they are very destructive. Characters die in this book. Characters we know. But when the final climatic scene happens, it’s hard to really work up any dismay, fear, or even concern over what happens or will happen to the characters. Horror needs to have a slow build to be truly effective in books and the unsettling bits in Wild Girls are too far apart and then too intense when they finally do happen.
I did finish the book, and I didn’t throw it across the room in frustration when I was done. So it’s not as bad as maybe I make it seem here. But for a book that had such interesting supernatural potential it was very disappointing to see it fall into more high school angst than I could ever care about.