The Wild Girls by Pat Murphy
Published by Viking Juvenile on October 18, 2007
cw: alcoholism, domestic abuse
It is the early 1970s. Twelve-year-old Joan is sure that she is going to be miserable when her family moves from Connecticut to California. Then she meets a most unusual girl. Sarah prefers to be called Fox, and lives with her author dad in a rundown house in the middle of the woods. The two girls start writing their own stories together, and when one wins first place in a student contest, they find themselves recruited for a summer writing class taught by the equally unusual Verla Volante. The Wild Girls is about friendship, the power of story, and how coming of age means finding your own answers rather than simply taking adults on faith.
Wow, I cannot even begin to recommend this book enough. I don’t remember how it made its way onto my TBR list, but all I can say is that I’m glad it did and that I’m glad my Down the TBR Hole posts led me back to it! I’ll definitely be pushing this in the face of everyone who asks me for book recs for a while to come.
They were shocked. They were angry. They were afraid.
We were the wild girls who lived in the woods. We had won a contest, we had put on our war paint and nothing would ever be the same again. We were the wild girls, and they did not know what we might do.
The Wild Girls follows the blossoming relationship between two girls, Newt and Fox (or Joan and Sarah). Although neither of the girls were canonically queer, I definitely read them as such and saw a lot of myself in both of them. They spend their free time getting muddy in the woods and writing stories and see no point in fawning over boys or trying to fit in.
The book really teeters between middle grade and young adult. The writing is simple in some ways, but not boring by any means. Joan is surprisingly mature, but still childlike. The issues that come up are realistic and complex. In my opinion, readers of all ages will enjoy the story. I found myself captivated the entire time and finished it in just a couple sittings.
There is a solid plot running through the book, but the focus of the story is really on the relationships between characters. We see not only Newt and Fox, but also the people that Newt and Fox interact with on a regular basis. We get to see how they all fit together and how they grow to learn more about each other.
There were a couple things that did rub me the wrong way. The “not like other girls” trope was present for a bit at the beginning, but luckily faded away after that. There was a lot of mentions of “war paint” which felt like cultural appropriation, as did the brief talk of “spirit animals” by the college student who had studied a Hopi tribe–it wasn’t extensive, but it seemed a bit troublesome. Those were really the only issues I had with it, though.
Maybe the best part to me is that Murphy manages to create a happy story. Although some deep stuff goes down, the characters manage to make it through these events with the support of their friends and families. This was a soft, nourishing read–and I don’t know if I’ve ever described a book as nourishing before. I wanted to curl up with it and let it lull me to sleep. This is a book I wish I had been able to read years ago, when I was growing up feeling outcast and lonely and not knowing how to make it through life’s curves. It was beautiful.
I truly recommend this book to everyone, but particularly writers and particularly particularly young writers. Please read this book, y’all. It is wonderful.