Book review · Sci-fi · Young adult

Review: Wilder Girls by Rory Power

42505366Annihilation meets Lord of the Flies in this YA literary horror debut featuring a quite deadly illness that slowly turns an all-girl school’s students into monsters.

Unfortunately, me and this book didn’t click as much as I hoped after seeing that cover – one of the most gorgeous in YA – and what this book was about, since it promised creepy woods and queer girls. It delivered both, but I found only one of them actually satisfying.

The main reason this book didn’t work for me were the characters. There wasn’t anything wrong with them, not really, but by the end of the book, I realized that I didn’t know them at all, which was the reason I couldn’t bring myself to care about them. I rooted for them, of course, but I didn’t feel it.
They felt so distant that I started to wonder whether this was intentional and the author was trying to mirror what Annihilation did with its main character. (And it really feels like a YA version of that! It even has the bear.) I can’t know the author’s intent, but the Annihilation approach worked because that book was barely longer than a novella, not even reaching 200 pages.

Another theory is that she chose not to develop her characters because Wilder Girls is meant to be a general portrayal of the experience of girlhood in a misogynistic world – which it could be, since this can be seen as a story about how girls are constantly made to change, told to be different, told that their bodies should be always beautiful, told that their bodies belong to everyone but them. Even then, I still don’t think this was the best choice (if it really was intentional). I just… couldn’t get invested in anything but the atmosphere.

Also: (spoilers)

I’m so tired of “climate change!!” plot twists in books that never in any way talk about ecology. It may be that I’m studying it and so I feel strongly about that, but to me it feels like constantly reading novels in which every plot twist involves deities but that never actually talk about religion. Of course we want to talk about climate change, of course it’s horrifying, but that’s exactly why you shouldn’t throw it around as if it were magic that is completely not tied to how ecosystems actually work.
I strongly believe that metaphors for something should make sense emotionally, and this… didn’t? I don’t know, when the cause was revealed I was pretty underwhelmed, and the worst thing is that I can already think of a lot of ways a similar set-up would have made a far better metaphor for climate change

 

Apart from that, I can say that this book is really well-written. The writing is gorgeous and evocative, the pacing excellent, and this is one of the best examples of plant horror I’ve ever read, because for once, I’ve found a plant horror book that actually tells you how the forest looks like and which trees are there (pines, spruces – yes, this book doesn’t call all of them pines, I love that – and broadleaf deciduous trees). I still didn’t love it, as I prefer books in which the forest horror comes from the plants and not from the animals that roam it.
Also, creepy tide pools! There are creepy tide pools! I loved the setting so much.

In addition to what didn’t work for me about the characters, this book also had what didn’t work for me about Annihilation, the sad, lost and gloomy tone, as I find it exhausting, but that’s not the book’s fault.

My rating: ★★★½

If you want to know the trigger warnings for Wilder Girlsthis list on the author’s site is comprehensive, but to that I’d add “therapy session gone wrong”, because I needed it.

Adult · Book review · Fantasy

Review: Into the Drowning Deep by Mira Grant

34523174I usually don’t give five stars to a book if it took me ten days to read it. However, I like to take horror in small doses; I also read most of this outside – at the beach, because there’s no better beach read than marine horror – and I often put it down because I wanted to spend my time there doing underwater photography, not reading.
I may have spent half of my goodreads updates complaining, but this book deserves five stars, and now I’ll try to explain why.

Into the Drowning Deep is a story about a scientific expedition trying to find mermaids after the mysterious deaths of the passengers of the AtagartisI decided to read this because I love everything that has to do with marine biology, and for once I found a book that talked about it without constantly breaking my suspension of disbelief. Not because it was realistic, it didn’t need to: it showed what I would expect scientists to do if they ever found mermaids.
I mean, this book features:

🦀 mermaid necropsy! With details! And people trying to classify them. Are they mammals, fish, reptiles, amphibians or what
🦀 biologists getting very excited about studying mermaid lice
🦀 biologists having very strong opinions about cetaceans (100% true to real life as far as my experience goes). Never ask a marine biologist about dolphins and whales (and never ask them about tuna, even if that’s a fish) unless you want an infodump
🦀 people making very… unwise decisions to discover things
🦀 scientists talking about funds and publications and all that stuff you never see in books when there’s science involved
🦀 try to find another book that mentions carcinisation
🦀 for once, a books that gets how terrifying the sea is. Even real-life sea without mermaids. Really, it’s terrifying and yet I get all the unwise decisions of the scientists. During one of these underwater photography days, I had to move aside to avoid a stingray; I did not chase it to photograph it because I’m not that suicidal, but I get the temptation – I never saw one before! Especially not here! – and that’s why I get this book

The sea is beautiful, the sea is scary, and humans are fascinated by scary, beautiful things. This book gets it. I love it. Enough not to care too much about the things I hated.
Sometimes I thought the environmentalism aspect was exaggerated – not because global warming and poaching don’t have real consequences (they do.) but don’t say a species is extinct in the wild when you’re talking about one subspecies of it! On the other hand, I liked how this book explored people’s relationships with the environment from many points of view. In a way, this is a story about humans being too proud, too fearless because they don’t know how danger looks anymore.

Sometimes the characters annoyed me, even some that weren’t meant to. I’m talking mostly about Dr. Toth. I didn’t hate her most of the time, but the writing didn’t help – it doesn’t let you have your own opinion about the characters. If the writer thinks a character is a bad person you get almost told they’re the worst people ever, and if the writer thinks a person is awesome (…Dr. Toth), you have to endure the narration telling how awesome and great that person is. Which is very annoying, but I understand why telling and not showing can be useful in a book with such a large cast.

My problem with Dr. Toth was:

🦀 “the scientists were wrong and the misunderstood pseudoscientist was right all along” is one of my least favorite tropes ever. Pseudoscientists are dangerous, they’re the reasons we have anti-vaxxers. And someone who was convinced of the mermaids’ existence since before the Atagartis incident is definitely a pseudoscientist.
🦀 she broke my suspension of disbelief more than the mermaids. When Dr. Toth and some other scientists are talking about whether mermaids could be mammals, she mentions that an animal doesn’t have to be viviparous to be considered a mammal (true! see Monotremes). Then she starts a long infodump about the fact that there’s no viviparous/oviparous binary, because there are animals who “lay their eggs internally”. Yes, it’s true, it’s called ovoviviparity and it’s not a revolutionary concept, and I don’t think there’s a biologist who thinks that binary even exists. I knew about ovoviviparity since I was six from book about animals for children, and we learned about it in third grade. The fact that she explained ovoviviparity to scientists and no one told her to stop being condescending is very unrealistic.
🦀 If you’d rather humans got hurt instead of animals, there’s something very wrong with you.
Hence the not-full five stars, but I did want to give this book a full five.

But let’s go back to the positive things. This book is about scientists, and it’s diverse. This alone is something that means a lot to me. Some relevant characters are:

🦀 Victoria “Tory” Stewart, a bisexual marine biologists whose sister died because of the mermaids; she falls in love with another woman during this story. She was my favorite character in the book and the main reason I read it in the first place. Not only a queer woman in science, a queer woman who is a marine biologist. I thought I would never see that.
🦀 Olivia Sanderson, an autistic lesbian who became a camera operator to overcome anxiety. I loved her a lot, and I’m glad I found another book with a f/f romance I actually loved!
The part in which she talked about how non-disabled parents abuse their disabled children in subtle ways like telling them they will never be sexual/infantilizing them was something I never saw in a book, but it’s true.
🦀 Not-really-divorced Jillian Toth and her disabled (chronic pain due to an accident) husband Theo Blackwell. Jillian is Hawaiian; I’ve already said what I thought about her, but I can say that I appreciated her slight moral grayness. Same thing for her husband, except he’s more morally gray and I didn’t always understand him. Anyway, I never saw a similar relationship dynamic before.
🦀 three red-headed sisters, Hallie, Heather and Holly Wilson, of which the last two are deaf scientists (and twins) and the first is an interpreter. I loved the discussion about accessibility and really liked all of them. Heather’s descent in the Mariana Trench with the submersible “Minnow” is probably the best scene in the book. It perfectly got the “the ocean is terrifying but I can’t look away” theme.

And there are many others! These are the most relevant ones, but we get at least ten, if not fifteen PoVs. Some of them last only a chapter, but no character was ever so underdeveloped I didn’t care about them in some way (even if my caring was “I hope they get eaten by a mermaid”)

My rating: ★★★★¾