'The best books, reviewed with insight and charm, but without compromise.'
- author Jackie French

Tuesday 9 July 2013

Review: Wildlife

Sixteen-year-old Sibylla expects the school wildness retreat to be painful. No gadgets, camp food, compulsory exercise and none of the comforts of home for a whole term. At least she’ll be with her best friend, so that should make things easier.

Lou is the new girl with a secret heartache she can’t bear to share with the group of strangers she finds herself surrounded by. Instead, she looks on with a dispassionate eye and wonders why Sibylla doesn’t stand up to her pushy, manipulative friend Holly.

Love, friendship, guilt, grief and growing up. Life? It’s simple: be true to yourself. The tricky part is finding out exactly who you are…

Wildlife conveys the wonderful, challenging confusion that is teenaged life. The story portrays with humour and sensitivity the changing landscape of friendships and relationships as teens move closer to adulthood and a sense of their own identity.

I was so impressed reading this story at how well the author weaves lessons about friendship, life, love and the importance of really being true to yourself through the story. The book deals with some major issues including betrayal of trust, first sexual experiences, death and grief, peer pressure and bullying, but it does so in a way that is never heavy handed or preachy.

The story is alternately narrated by Sibylla and Lou. Sibylla is a central figure while Lou exists, by choice, on the periphery of the group. As an outsider, Lou in particular offers a very interesting perspective on the events taking place and gives readers the opportunity to consider the actions and decisions of others from a less emotional point of view.

In addition to dealing with several friendship issues, Sibylla must also face the decision of whether to become sexually involved with one of the boys on the retreat. Once again, the author deftly deals with this issue, never preaching or making judgements, but very clearly portraying this decision as one that has significant emotional implications for Sibylla and, when the final decision is made, one that permanently changes the way she views this boy and their relationship.

While Lou plays a significant role as an observer in the novel, her own experiences in dealing with the sudden death of her boyfriend in a car accident and her ongoing grief add another level of emotional complexity to the story. Readers may be familiar with Lou from Fiona Wood’s debut novel Six impossible Things (KBR review).

Despite the many intense emotional themes of the story, Wildlife maintains a wonderful sense of teen energy and humour. It is a book that I have already recommended to friends with teen daughters and the characters and their experiences have certainly lingered in my mind since I finished the book. I am now keen to read Fiona Wood’s previous novel, Six Impossible Things, to learn more about Lou and her life before joining Sibylla and the other students on their wilderness retreat.

Wildlife is a highly recommended teen novel about first love, friendship and not fitting in.

Title: Wildlife
Author: Fiona Wood
Publisher: Pan Macmillan, $16.99 RRP
Publication Date: 1 June 2013
Format: Paperback
ISBN: 9781742612317
For ages: 15+
Type: Young Adult Fiction