Wilder Girls

Dec 14, 2023

Content Warning: Body Horror, Transphobia, Puberty, Suicide, Child Abuse

Spoilers: Wilder Girls, Silent Hill 3

It begins with a fever…

You’re too hot to remain under the covers. The grey steel of the bunk bed fills your vision as your eyes snap open, but the midnight air of your school dormitory doesn’t cool you. Oh God. You sit up. It’s writhing inside of your arm, pressing pins and needles into your skin. You’re having a flare up and it’s too late to take any supressants. Now, it won’t stop until it has finished exerting its will. You resist the urge to scream by chewing into your knuckles. The flesh on your palm splits open, as if ripped with the sharp points of a bread knife. Once more, this time on the other hand. Just as your eyes adjust to the gloom, two more gaze back. A warm glow seeps through a crack underneath the door, sucking all feeling from your gut. They’ll lock you in the medical ward for this. You’re sure of it.


I didn’t hear of Wilder Girls through online advertising or word of mouth. I heard about it through the unofficial role-playing game by Litza Bronwyn.. In essence, I became interested in the novel out of a desire for context. Here was an idea so gross that it sunk itself deep into my mind and wouldn’t let me go. The fantasy that this concept conveys is truly disturbing and begs to be explored with mechanics. I’ve had an interest in horror ever since some bright spark decided to leave a chain letter on my DeviantArt page, but body horror is something that I’ve never been able to fully immerse myself in. My life is already one in which my body acts against my will. Why would I want to endure that for the three hundred plus pages of a young adult novel?


Perhaps a change of image was in order. The Tox is a curiously feminine disease, that takes the form of flowered vines, crystilline fingernails and sharp spines pressing against the small of your back. A girl’s private school on a forested island just off Maine lends itself well to this. Women are interesting, that much is known. As much as I enjoy works like Touhou Project or Momodora that take a “No Boyz Alowed” approach to casting, the practicality of this idea quickly falls apart when you realise that not everyone born a boy remains that way for long. Something that lands with a deafening thud the moment a doctor announces that only a single person present is assigned male at birth. That he’s caught a frightful case of being a plant zombie. Did you also know he’s my father?

It really feels like someone put the cart before the horse here. It’s a fascinating study as to why a setting doesn’t make a book. Characters do, and here I found them a little flat and hard to differentiate. Everyone acts on impulse in a way that doesn’t deliberately invoke the freedom of being a teenager so much as making the narrative be shocking as possible. Sometimes this hits, like when Hetty describes her eye in the singular, because we know what happened to the other one. Most of the time it doesn’t, such as with Taylor’s death.

While I appreciate the attempts to skip past genre cliché and get right into the heart of the matter, the novel also manages to sail straight past any nuance. In early drafts of Silent Hill 3, Team Silent aimed to focus a lot more on Heather Mason’s experiences with maturity. This detailed portrait was a little too much for Konami in 2003, so the idea ended up being quashed. I personally hoped that two decades would have been enough time for someone else to pick up the slack with more unique imagery, but I suppose I can’t fault the author for not making their book exactly as I would want it to be, even though the plot could use a slower build up essential to grisly stories of this kind. It needed a handful more developmental meetings at least.

I’m also an advocate of stories having a strong goal. It’s why I can sing the praises of Avatar: The Last Airbender until I’m hoarse, but struggle to tell you anything specific from The Legend of Korra. At first it seems like the point is enduring the US Navy’s military blockade, but then it’s about rescuing Byatt after she’s kidnapped. But oh, surprise! Hetty and Reese decide to kiss at the exact halfway point. What annoys me about this isn’t just the lack of focus, it’s how the queer content is routinely ignored in favour of sudden twists. Ones that don’t land due to a lack of foreshadowing.

Speaking of which…

It was climate change all along.

I hope you weren’t sensing a theme with the subject headings. I think the ending really sums up the problems plaguing Wilder Girls. Too often, young writers learn of the transformative power of stories only to be afflicted with a strange sense of moral duty. I’m certainly not immune to this, but I do find it odd how a misguided sense of environmentalism seems to be their first choice. The Tox is a force of nature yes, but one that comes from within. A future iteration of this story, one that begins with the infection and ends with our protagonists huddled for their lives. In love, but irreparably warped and twisted by their experiences. That’s what I’d want to see.

Unfortunately, it seems the author appears to have left Raxter behind in favour of other projects. This truly is a shame. Despite all the surface level influence of Annihilation and Lord of the Flies, what we have is so unique and interesting that allowing it to rot feels criminal. I don’t think this work is cynical in the slightest, but this being Power’s debut puts me in a tricky position. I don’t want to block anyone from writing simply because they weren’t able to fail fast enough, but I also can’t give this book a full recommendation based purely on its inability to live up to its own imagination.