Book Review: Wildlife

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Author: Fiona Wood
ISBN: 978-1-7426-1231-7
RRP: $16.99

Wildlife is the second novel from Melbourne author Fiona Wood and my first introduction to her work. The novel follows the 2011 release of Six Impossible Things and brings us one of the characters from the earlier book, a couple of years on from what I can gather, and a host of new adolescents.

Year 10 has always been a year of big change and quite significant in the coming-of-age stakes, I think, and I’m not sure if that’s just because of the way the school system was set up where I grew up or if it is all about being 16. Wildlife takes that coming-of-age one step further in that the school our characters attend sends all Year 10 students to spend one term at a boarding campus in the wilderness. This campus still offers structured classroom education, though the subjects are combined and not the same as they would be in the normal school, and the rest of the time there are chores and lessons in self-sufficiency, outdoor living, hiking, camping, and lots of physical exercise. Students are housed in six person self-contained houses so they can do some of their own cooking though there are still structured meals in the dining hall.

It all sounds very much like a school camp – except this one lasts an entire term. A whole term of being in each others pocket with very little escape, very little privacy and very little solitude. Generally school camp goes for 4-6 days I think and even that is enough time to be well and truly ready for some space. I can’t imagine having to do that for an entire term. Of course being school you can’t even just disappear on your own for that solitude because duty of care requires you are always in pairs or groups.

We have two first person narrators which is something that took me a while to get my head around, and then I discovered a little tell on the first page of each new chapter which told me who was narrating.

Narrator number one is Sibylla, her point of view is mainly a look at life through her eyes and in her thoughts. Her big life changes begin just before the wilderness term begin and they are big, almost total reversal in the Year 10 hierarchy stakes.

wildlife

Narrator number two is new girl Lou, whom readers of Six Impossible Things will already have met. She has suffered a major heartbreak and is joining the ranks of Crowthorne Grammar for the outdoor education term. She is totally closed off and watching life go on around her without getting involved. Her chapters are told as journal entries, begun as part of her therapy and not because she wanted to be writing in a journal. This is a great insight into her character because otherwise we wouldn’t get to know her nearly as well. Lou is quite closed off, she has removed herself from the world around her and is not looking to get involved again anytime soon, except so far as it looks like she is making progress. She makes an insightful, and mostly objective, observer of the 16 year old world around her.

Wood has written characters so believable that I could quite easily slot them into my friendship group from high school. Their actions, reactions and motivations rang true every time – even when they were the ones that made you want to shake them. There are all the things you would expect from six 16yr old girls sharing a house for a term, the moods and hormones and bickering, and the getting to know what people can really be like in a way that you usually wouldn’t.

We see such growth and emerging maturity from our narrators as they navigate the term, Lou learning to live again and coming back into the world from that place she thought she would never want to leave. We see her start to come to terms with her heartbreak and move forward, knowing she will never forget but that she can’t stay in that place forever.

Sibylla is a character that I love. She is at a real crossroad within herself and a total turning point. In the holidays preceding camp term her life saw some major changes already.

In the holidays before the dreaded term at Crowthorne Grammar’s outdoor education camp two things out of the ordinary happened.
A picture of me was plastered all over a twenty-metre billboard.
And I kissed Ben Capaldi.

So for Sibylla she is starting term with a fresh slate and a fresh face, she has some minor celebrity happening and can truly invent herself in whatever image she wants – now she just has to work out what that is. Sibylla has always known the benefits of being true to herself, it’s just that now she has to work out who that is. She is given plenty of opportunity to see the people around her in a different light as well and it gets interesting waiting to see how that will play out.

One thing Wildlife explored beautifully is the extreme chasm that often exists between the way people portray themselves and the way they are actually feeling, something I have always found to be prevalent in that age group. The public mask of indestructibility often hides huge esteem issues and insecurity.

Wildlife is a book that dragged me in and held me captive, it took me back to a similar time in my life and is so totally relatable. A great book for all ages and one I think will definitely resonate with girls of the same age as Sibylla, Lou and their classmates. I think I’d like to go find Six Impossible Things now and see what Lou was like before her heart was broken.

I will definitely put Fiona Wood on my watch list for future releases.

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