Saturday 27 July 2019

Dig by A.S. King and Wilder Girls by Rory Power    {Reviewed by STELLA}
Some things grow down and other out and up. In Dig, the potato tuber takes centre stage while in Wilder Girls a plant-like toxin is trying to take everything over, including the inhabitants of an island. These two teen novels are both excellent. Dig by A.S. King deals with some big issues in the world of a group of teens in a Southern town in America while Wilder Girls by Rory Power lands us in Raxter, a girls' boarding school on an island. Each explores the ferocity and grit of teens to overcome challenging situations. Wilder Girls has been described as The Power meets Lord of the Flies. Hetty, Reese and Byatt are firm friends and become even more dependent on each other as the situation on Raxter escalates. And what a situation it is! The Tox, a robust and vigorous plant-form is suffocating and mutating the environment, as well as the children and teachers that live on the island. Some merely succumb to the plague and die, while others are damaged or find themselves with a variety of growths — extra spinal structures, silvered arms. The island is in quarantine awaiting, the girls think, rescue. Each girl has her role to play, and when Hetty is chosen to be one of a small team to go to the jetty to collect food and other supplies, she realises that the teachers (who are still alive — just two of them) are not being up-front about the school’s predicament. It’s dangerous outside the gates of the school, and at night the mutated forest creatures are hungry beasts who need to be warded off from entering the school grounds. With this mix of illness and fear, the girls, while living chaotically and dividing themselves off into groups pitted against each other, are kept at arm's length from the truth. No one is coming to rescue them. When Byatt has a relapse and disappears from the school infirmary, Hetty and Reese go in search of her, in search of the cause of the Tox and a way off the island. This gripping, imaginative tale where many can not be trusted, where a fierce friendship will help overcome devastation, where you will keep reading despite a sense of unease (it’s a little creepy — the intruding vines and branches) and you will hold your breath until the surprising end.
Dig is quieter in its telling but no less powerful. Bringing together of the lives a group of teens whose stories ultimately will intertwine, A.S. King’s young adult's novel is a brilliant piece of work. Set in the South, we are introduced to the characters through their eccentricities: The Freak — a girl who is off the rails and bullied, The Shoveler — a boy who has arrived in a new town (for the umpteenth time) always the outsider, CanIHelpYou? —  a girl who works in a drive-thru handing out junk food and hustling hash on the side, Loretta and her flea circus who live in a trailer home with an abusive father and down-trodden mother, and Malcolm — who doesn’t eat lamb. The teens live normal lives, go to school, make some pocket money, regret or despise their parents, try to make their own decisions and go their own way when they can, but reality throws them curve-balls. And then you also meet the young thugs of the town. Bill and Jake, along with the respectable elderly couple, Marla and Gottfried. and as the story progresses you realise that they are tarred with the same brush. Dig down a little and the past, its injustices and prejudices make a quick route to the surface. King does not shy away from the racism, abuse and double standards that permeate middle America and the small-town attitudes that act as a fertiliser. Why are Marla and Gottfried in a position of superior wealth? Why has The Shoveler’s mother moved them to this small town? Why can’t HowCanIHelpYou? remain friends with Ian (her closest friend since primary school)?  And why do they all see The Freak unexpectedly flickering in and out of their lives  what is she trying to tell them? Dig down and it’s all there underground. Rot, as well as hope.  

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