This is my book review for What Should Be Wild by Julia Fine
I intend to use the ASPECT method (see graphic at the end of this post) for my discussion and will not spoil the ending.
Cursed.Maisie Cothay has never known the feel of human flesh: born with the power to kill or resurrect at her slightest touch, she has spent her childhood sequestered in her family’s manor at the edge of a mysterious forest. Maisie’s father, an anthropologist who sees her as more experiment than daughter, has warned Maisie not to venture into the wood. Locals talk of men disappearing within, emerging with addled minds and strange stories. What he does not tell Maisie is that for over a millennium her female ancestors have also vanished into the wood, never to emerge—for she is descended from a long line of cursed women.
But one day Maisie’s father disappears, and Maisie must venture beyond the walls of her carefully constructed life to find him. Away from her home and the wood for the very first time, she encounters a strange world filled with wonder and deception. Yet the farther she strays, the more the wood calls her home. For only there can Maisie finally reckon with her power and come to understand the wildest parts of herself.
In this darkly funny, striking debut, a highly unusual young woman must venture into the woods at the edge of her home to remove a curse that has plagued the women in her family for millennia—an utterly original novel with all the mesmerizing power of The Tiger’s Wife, The Snow Child,and Swamplandia!Amazon.com
Because it is relevant, I am going to start with T: Why THIS book?
Full disclosure. I grabbed this book from my TBR pile because I thought it would be a fast easy YA read about a special girl and maybe some magic or something.
Boy howdy was I wrong.
I mean, sure, there is magic, and a special girl tbh, but this book was dark and twisted and surprisingly gory and violent.
I liked it.
Ok, actual review time.
Atmosphere and Style:
The tone of this book was al dark fairy tale. The world was similar enough to our world that the magic bit seemed sometimes jarring for both the characters as well as the reader, and yet the magic was so clearly interwoven into the plot and the world that it never felt totally out of place, even when the characters themselves were confused. It was a balancing act that Fine pulled off. The writing is… Lush. Lots of descriptive bits and definitely some “trust the author, it is ok to not understand quite yet” moments. But you know, it wasn’t just dark… it was twisted. Think Tim Burton but not as weird. And… well, honestly, it was kind of sad. It had a good ending, don’t get me wrong, but the world that we live in is really dark… and that darkness is the patriarchy.
Plot and Pacing:
Going to get this bit out of the way. This is NOT Pushing Daisies despite the similar curse of the main character. Just… put that show as far out of your mind as possible.
For the most part, it moved along okay. A bit of a slow burn at the beginning and I actually felt that the final climax resolved itself almost too fast, but I was also ready for it to end, to shake myself from the depressing stupor, throw open my windows and let some light back in.
There is a lot about the magic that isn’t explained (and funnily enough, the person who wants the most to find an explanation and think about these magical things with logic and science… is the bad guy!) and that is ok. I am on record for not needing everything explained to me. It is enough to figure out the rules of the magic and deal with the conflict that it has set up, I don’t need to see behind the curtain.
There are not a lot of characters (which was sort of a relief as the last book I reviewed almost had too many. The main character is fleshed out and sympathetic. Her father is not fleshed out until a few flashbacks later in the book, which… isn’t great, because by that point you just don’t care. And then there are two young men character… one of which is believable and one of which… isn’t. What saved it for me was that there was a character with the same name as my husband who acted… weird as it may sound… a lot like my husband. The fact that our protagonist flummoxes him just as much as he frustrates her, was endearing and perhaps hit a bit close to home.
The book does stay away from the YA love triangle trope and I was so very glad about that.
This is the strongest area. I was enthralled. I wanted to find out what was going to happen and when a subversion of the “rescue” trope happened, I Was There For It.
Again, the true villain of this book is the patriarchy… the fact that a new “evil” (maybe?) rises as a way to thwart it… is interesting. The curse that our protagonist is under, is a convention and probably symbolic, but it isn’t really the point of the story. This is a book about coming of age, about throwing off the shackles placed upon you by society and your family and your gender, and reclaiming your power by accepting your whole self.
I mean, fairy tales are supposed to be morality tales, right? They are supposed to have stepsisters cutting off toes and mermaids ending up dead. That’s the deal. In that light, the fact that this book has a happy ending (happy for one… “fitting and accepted” for others) might ring a bit false, but -again- I liked the ending and I liked the subtle subversion of so many fairy tales and YA tropes. And yes, subtle. It is possible to read this and be like “oh it was a creepy story about a magic forest and a girl who breaks a curse.” If that is what you want to do, fine. I won’t yuck your yum. But I challenge you to look a little deeper at what Fine is really saying about death, life, self, and inner darkness.
Would I recommend it?
Yes. It was a bit long, a few of the characters were too simple, and there was a healthy need to just nod along and not ask questions… but in the end, I enjoyed it despite its flaws and there are definitely scenes and ideas that will stay with me.
Reminder of the ASPECT Method.
A Atmosphere: How did it make me feel? What was the world like? This might include overall tone.
S Style: What was the writing style like? Simplistic or sophisticated? Clunky or beautiful?
P Plot/Pace: Was it engaging? Were there holes? Did it feel too rushed or too long?
E Enjoyment: Was it a chore to finish or compelling enough that I picked it over other fun activities?
C Characters: Were they believable, sympathetic, interesting?
T This: Why did I read *This* book?