I was sad to have missed the launch for this as it’s one I’d been looking to for ages. Still, I’m happy to have had the opportunity to review a copy, albeit a tad late!
Readers familiar with Fiona’s first book Six Impossible Things will remember Lou, who takes one part of the narrative in Wildlife. The other is taken by newcomer, sixteen-year-old Sibylla. Sibylla is exactly the kind of non-threatening narrator that brings out the protectiveness of readers, pulling them instantly onside. She’s the nerdy, shy outcast, hovering on the periphery of groups and cliques and only ever dragged to social events by the firm hand of her best friend Holly. However after being transformed from plain Jane into a glamorous billboard model, Sibylla arrives at the school’s outdoor education camp amid a buzz of gossip. Added to her new status is tantalising promise of what could be – a kiss from popular Ben Capaldi that might turn into something more.
Enter Lou, still holding tightly to the loss of her beloved Fred. She joins Sibylla, Ben and Holly as they head off for their term away – where they’ll learn to survive the wilderness and hopefully each other.
Lou and Sibylla are standout characters with crystal clear voices. Where some dual narrative stories are muddy and confusing, there’s no need for chapter headers to differentiate between these two – they speak so independently, it’s completely obvious when each one takes hold of the story.
First love, changing friendships, identity, grief and acceptance are all concentrated in the claustrophobic camp setting. For Sibylla there’s no escaping the growing number of cracks in her friendship with Holly or the realities of her new/first love. Lou is confronted with her own grief – forced (despite her best efforts to the contrary) to rediscover her own identity and take the risk of new friendships.
While the dramatic turbulence of being a teenager/falling in love/finding friendships/accepting yourself is nothing new in the world of YA fiction (or to anyone who made it through high school), Fiona Wood writes about them with a fresh clarity. The relationships aren’t overdone, the drama isn’t the stuff of daytime soaps. Instead the relationships, the dramas and the outcomes feel genuine.
Wildlife could well be about the lives of any teenagers I’ve met or in fact my own. I’ve never spent a term at an outdoor ed camp (and frankly I shudder at the thought!), but the story is authentic and familiar and it takes no time at all to become attached to Lou and Sibylla as they brave the wilderness.