Of my most recent library haul, this was my favorite.
Rating: 4 / 5 Stars
Summary from Goodreads: 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 an unexpected romance with popular Ben Capaldi? 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.
This was one of the most poigniant YA novels I’ve read in a while. Wood beautifully captures the awkwardness, messiness, and pain of being a teenager without making me roll my eyes once. So often, YA protagonists are either unrealistically shallow or unrealistically intelligent. Wood’s are somewhere in the middle.
Wildlife is all about discovery. In a way, it’s the story we all go through as teens. It’s about finding a way through the messiness of life and figuring out who you are. Her main characters are beautiful and complex individuals that captured my heart. Their stories highlight different aspects of the teenage experience that felt authentic.
Until recently, Syb had never been popular and she was always okay with that. But when her aunt scores her a modeling gig, her face plastered on a billboard becomes her ticket to the cool table. Suddenly, the most popular boy in her grade likes her, she’s the center of attention, and her childhood best friend is right by her side, urging her to take advantage of the opportunity. Deep down, she knows that popularity and the behavior surrounding it just isn’t her. But, at the same time, she really likes the popular boy. Stuck between two worlds, she has to decide what really matters–being with the cool kids or being true to herself.
Then, there’s Lou. Dear, dear Lou. Devastated by the death of her boyfriend, Lou is still in deep mourning when we meet her at the beginning of the novel. She has no desire to engage with the world. She attends therapy, but puts on a show to make them think she’s getting better. She’s empty inside. All her thoughts go to the one she lost. When all her friends go spend a term in Paris, she decides to transfer schools just in time for their wilderness survival term. Lou steps up to the challenge, finding solace in grueling hikes and beautiful scenery. Forced to live in close-quarters with a handful of girls, she can’t help but become slowly involved in their lives.
Wildlife isn’t the most gripping novel out there, but what strikes me most is its honesty. Wood poses questions and gives realistic, truthful answers. Is popularity worth it? When is it right to start having sex? What is it like to lose a loved one? What does friendship look like?
The best part? It’s all set at camp!
“The trouble is that keeping [memory] alive, giving it all that energy, will, determination, stops me being alive in the present. I’m not stupid. I don’t need Esthers and Merills to tell me that is not a brilliant way for a sixteen-year-old to live. I know what you would say. You’d say, get on with it, Lou m’Lou. There’s a lot more to do than thinking about me. Don’t hang out somewhere that isn’t anymore. Don’t haunt the landlost past, you’d say… I’ve written you a hundred unsent letters. Maybe if I keep writing and sealing them, they can sit somewhere safely. Our story is a one-sided correspondence–I know that’s oxymoronic–and I can allow that to be it. I can put a lid… I can just go there sometimes… I can know it’s there, safely; we are there.”
You Will Like This Book If: You enjoy Young Adult fiction, wilderness, camp life, and coming of age stories.