Book review of The Wilderness of Girls by Madeline Claire Franklin

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In her eerie and engrossing debut, The Wilderness of Girls, author Madeline Claire Franklin invites readers to ponder the sometimes blurry line between belief and delusion, and to consider what it means to be free.

Sixteen-year-old Rhiannon Chase is barely hanging on. Her financier father is neglectful and angry, and her stepmother’s cruelty has led to Rhi’s decade-long eating disorder. But suddenly, salvation: Her father is arrested for numerous crimes, her stepmother flees and Rhi is taken in by her late mother’s brother, Uncle Jimmy. She barely knows him, but he’s attentive and kind, and even secures her a part-time job at the Happy Valley Wildlife Preserve. 

Rhi feels at home and alive as she rambles through the woods. But when she encounters four wild young girls surrounded by a pack of protective wolves, she doesn’t know what to think. As for what she feels? “She understands their pain, their grief, their loss, even though she knows nothing about them. Her throat aches to join them.”

Franklin reveals the girls’ astonishing story one tantalizing layer at a time via rotating perspectives, flashbacks, news articles and other narrative moves. She deftly builds tension as the girls warily contend with a host of strange new experiences, from eating with utensils to being placed with foster families. Rhi steadfastly helps care for the girls as her fascination with their strange past grows. Was Mother, the man who raised them, a kidnapper and brainwasher or a mystical prophet? Could Rhi be the sister in Mother’s mantra, “When the heavens meet the Earth and your fifth sister has arrived, you will return to Leutheria and save your kingdoms”?   

Magic, folklore and contemporary society collide in The Wilderness of Girls as it sensitively explores the pain of trauma, the beauty of found family and the possibility that “There is room for the unknown, the undefined. There is room for magic, and wildness. There is room for so much more than any of us had ever dared to imagine.”

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