Release Date – September 16, 2014
Let’s get something straight right now. When I first looked at the blurb for Wildlife, I wasn’t impressed. Wildlife is written by an Australian author – I don’t have much experience with Aussie literature. And the concept of taking a bunch of high school kids on a term-long survival experience/camp thing didn’t make me want to read the book. That being said, I read it anyway.
I’m so glad I did. What I found was a book that didn’t focus so much on the camping and survival and bugs and dirt and hiking experience so much as it focused on bigger, more important things. I certainly didn’t expect such a refreshing, straightforward look at life, love, and death. There’s something different about Australian literature. I haven’t read a ton, but it just has this different tone and straightforwardness. It’s more frank. I’m probably describing it really badly, but this “something more” quality really shone through in this novel.
The novel is another one of those on the trend train of revealing the story from the perspectives of two different characters. You know, the whole alternating chapters thing. It can be a good thing, but I’m a little tired of the trend. However, it did serve its purpose here. Wildlife is the story of Sibylla, whose new popularity can be chalked up to having been featured on a billboard right before term started. It’s also the story of Lou, who is still coping with the loss of her boyfriend. Throughout the term, Lou speaks truth into Sibylla’s life while Sibylla slowly draws Lou out of her self-created shell.
Sibylla’s story deals with a topic that can be found in most books written for the high school crowd – popularity and appearance and how to be true to one’s self in the midst of the crowd. Wood deals with this really well in Sibylla’s voice, asking important questions about how far we are willing to go and what we are willing to give up of ourselves in order to make it to the top. It’s a universal topic that applies even after high school. I know a ton of adults who still aren’t sure who exactly they are and what they stand for. Wildlife did a great job of encouraging teens to learn about themselves and what they want and how to stick to that in the face of bullying or pressure.
Lou’s story is all about coping with the death of a loved one. What hit home for me here is the truth that everyone who deals with such a great loss will go through the stages of grief and healing differently and at various paces. Lou’s counselors, for instance, think she should be much further along, so she fakes her way through sessions and puts on a brave face for the public. So this topic is important as well, and equally well addressed.
The novel just felt really refreshing, overall. I love Sibylla’s friendships with Lou and Michael, and how they bring out the best in each other. I love that they validate each other, speak truth into each other, and call each other out when something is wrong. I didn’t understand some of the inherently Australian stuff, like how the term system works or if year 10 is the same thing as 10th grade, but those were issues that I can live with. I think this is a really accurate book and a really important book. I’m glad I didn’t let the hiking scare me away!