Note: Wildlife is a companion novel to Six Impossible Things. While there are no explicit spoilers in this review, you may be able to guess what happens between Six Impossible Things and Wildlife. Just in case you’re really allergic to even the hint of a spoiler.
My favourite kinds of stories are the ones you can relate to. The stories that leap from the page, wrap their arms around you and say, “It’s OK, you’re not alone.” Wildlife is one of those books. I connected with so many aspects of this story – the grieving process, the struggle to fit in, the best friend who is really a bitch, the nervousness and excitement that goes along with first relationships, the loneliness that is being a teenager – there is so much in there. The only other author that has represented the teen experience so authentically, with such raw emotion, is Melina Marchetta. Yep, I’m putting Fiona Wood up there with Ms Double M herself. That’s how much I loved this book.
I almost couldn’t read it. I got seven pages in and discovered something that made me sick. I seriously had to hide the book - I was so devastated, I couldn’t even look at it. After a day or so I finally forced myself to pick it up again and I’m so glad I did. The writing was exquisite and as much as I hated what had happened, it was beautifully dealt with.
Lou from Six Impossible Things is at the centre of this sad story, and her isolation and despair are palpable as she comes to grips with her grief in the middle of nowhere, at a school camp where she knows no one. The short, unfinished sentences that open her chapters in the beginning of Wildlife perfectly encapsulate the breathlessness of depression – the pain so deep, so overwhelming, that it numbs you and leaves you unable to speak or even function properly. It’s utterly heartbreaking, but importantly it’s also incredibly cathartic, as you watch Lou slowly heal and find her way back to contentment, if not complete happiness.
Lou’s intense grief and loneliness are perfectly balanced by the alternate chapters that focus on Sibylla’s story. While she is dealing with her own problems, they’re not as dark as Lou’s, and in comparison her story is light and fun. She has a new, hot boyfriend who is pressuring her to move fast, her best friend is acting strange, and her oldest friend is strangest of all. It might sound like this kind of plot would contrast too starkly with Lou’s chapters, but actually they’re wonderfully integrated. A similar sense of isolation underpins both characters’ experiences, and ultimately they both represent significant life events, for better or worse.
As with Six Impossible Things, the secondary characters are a highlight in Wildlife. There were a few that I loved, and a couple that I hated, which was just as it should be. I adored both main characters. Sometimes I just wanted to shake some sense into Sibylla, but I think that’s because I identified with her so much and, you know, I’ve got hindsight and all. Lou I just wanted to hug and squish and make all the problems go away. My heart still hurts for her.
Wildlife is pretty much the perfect teen book. It is so incredibly realistic, while also being touching and inspiring. It's a fun, easy read, but it also explores very important and deep issues. It will make you feel happy and sad and worried and excited and so many things all at once. It will tear you apart into tiny pieces, before patching you up again, just as whole, but not quite the same.
Published: June 2013, Pan Macmillan
Get It: Bookworld