Friday, May 11, 2018

Book Review: What Should Be Wild

Author: Julia Fine
Publication Date: May 8, 2018
Publisher: Harper

Washington Post Best Fantasy Book of May • Refinery 29 Best May Book • Chicago Review of Books Best May Book • Verge Gripping Fantasy Novel of May

“Delightful and darkly magical. Julia Fine has written a beautiful modern myth, a coming-of-age story for a girl with a worrisome power over life and death. I loved it.”  —Audrey Niffenegger, author of The Time Traveler’s Wife and Her Fearful Symmetry

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!

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.

This is the story of Maisie Cothay, a girl born with the ability to instantly kill or resurrect anything with a single touch. Her father, whom she refers to as Peter, is an anthropologist who keeps her a virtual prisoner of her late mother’s family manor. He's a cold fish, only interested in studying her peculiar condition in order to achieve academic acclaim. While Maisie has allies in the loyal housekeeper, Mrs. Blott and an elderly, eccentric women who lives nearby called Mother Farrow, she is for the most part alone with only the voices in her head to comfort her.

The story is told in alternating viewpoints between Maisie and a few of the female ancestors that have come before her. Readers learn, through an intricate maze of imaginatively weaved tales, about the plight of these women and the inflictions they, like Maisie, also faced. Readers will feel sympathy for Maisie because, like the others, she is left alone and isolated and not at all to blame for her confinement.

At the moment in the book when Maisie’s father goes missing and she makes the decision to venture out to find him, I knew that I would see Maisie change and grow into a brave, confident young woman. This is a dark coming of age story with a vibrant, young, moldable female lead. Maisie’s character arc was to die for!

This is a dark contemporary/fantasy novel that will hold your attention and make you pause in reflection. The writing is poetic and the story reads like a fairy tale all the way through. If you love writing that is heavily descriptive and carries a melodic tone, then I would adamantly suggest that you try this debut novel.

The only downfalls that I care to point out about the writing is that because there are so many characters weighing in the story can be hard to follow and because of this there are a few holes. Also, the ending wrapped up almost too easily and I wished for a little more from the conclusion.

“We all pass on, in the end,” said Mrs. Blott. “After a long, full life, we all want peace.”

Unfair, to have just one attempt at ripeness, a few brief years of possibility before sweetness turns to rot.

She did not speak out loud, but the wood heard.

I ended giving this debut novel four out of five stars, for the reasons detailed above. However, I must say this was an enchanting read that took me no time at all to finish. The writing is so detailed that it played out like a movie in my head – it was so easy to picture Maisie’s detailed accounts and to add faces to all the characters I met. You really cannot go wrong with this one - there’s magic, mystery, and adventure! 

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