Wildlife by Fiona Wood
Set in Australia, this teen novel features the first person voices of two sixteen-year-old girls experiencing a semester in a school wilderness camp. Sib has been in this school for a long time, so it surprises everyone, including herself, when she is selected as a model for a billboard and modeling campaign. Suddenly instead of ignoring her, everyone is paying attention to her. That includes Ben Capaldi, the cutest and most popular boy in school. Sib has no idea how to deal with this new interest, but her best friend is very willing to guide her, perhaps too willing. Lou is a new girl in school and is recovering from the loss of her boyfriend in an accident a year ago. She has no interest in joining into school life or making new friends. Instead she wants to be left alone, connect with her old friends, grieve and try to figure a way out of her extra counseling sessions. But even as she walls herself away from the others at school, she finds herself getting drawn into the drama and life happening around her. This story of two very different and equally compelling young women dives deep into romance, sexuality and friendship.
Wood has made recent news through her frank depiction of teen female sexuality. This book stands out clearly with its positive but also nuanced and honest look at one girl’s first sexual experience. With moments of humor throughout, the sex is shown with lots of heat, tons of desire, and then reality as well. In the end, the character decides what is right for her, not what is right for all teens, but there is no shaming, no despair, no regret, just decisions going forward. This is sex as teen girls experience it, done with intelligence and care.
The reason the sex in the book works so well is that Wood has created two main characters who are themselves intelligent, caring and fascinating. Sib is dealing with suddenly breaking the role that she had been cast in, and being thrust into popularity for something that she sees no value in, modeling. It’s a deft combination of feminism and pop culture. She also has a manipulative best friend, a character who is beautifully drawn and one that readers will adore to dislike. Lou too is a complex character with her grief but also her growing interest in those around her. Her internal voice is wonderfully wry and funny, showing a spirit and intensity well before she reveals it to the world around her.
Set in a clever parent-free wilderness setting, this book is smart, funny and just what fans of Rainbow Rowell are looking for. Appropriate for ages 14-18.
Reviewed from library copy.