Monday 8 July 2013


Wildlife by Fiona Wood (Pan MacMillan)
PB RRP $16.99
ISBN: 9781742612317
Reviewed by Wendy McLean

Fiona Wood started out in life as a script writer, and has written scripts for many well-known TV shows including, Something in the Air, The Secret Life of Us, Home and Away, Neighbours and more recently for The Reef Doctors. Fiona describes her switch from script writer to YA author as ‘more a very lucky accident than a decision.’

I am very grateful for her ‘lucky accident’ because her two YA books, Six Impossible Things and Wildlife, are two of the best examples of contemporary YA fiction I have read. Fiona’s first novel was shortlisted for the CBCA Book of the Year, Older Readers 2011 and with very good reason.

Fiona Wood’s second novel Wildlife, a companion novel to Six Impossible Things, is a fantastic follow on which may even be more powerful than her first novel. Wildlife is set in the Victorian wilderness, where sixteen year old Sibylla Quinn and her peers from Crowthorne Grammar are spending a term at an outdoor education camp. Sibylla is used to blending into the background while Holly, her extroverted best friend, seeks and thrives on attention. The tenuous balance in their friendship shifts the day Sibylla appears on a billboard as the new face for a global advertising company. She attracts attention from her classmates and the most popular boy in Year 10, Ben Capaldi, which she finds confusing and uncomfortable. With this shift in social order, Holly and Sibylla’s friendship is tested, and finally emerges as the toxic relationship it has always been.

Lou (from Six Impossible Things) is new to Crowthorne Grammar, having transferred schools after the accidental death of her boyfriend Fred. While Sibylla is dealing with her new position in the social hierarchy and with friendship and sexuality, Lou is still dealing with her grief and anger. Her only aim is to endure the term and remain separated from her peers while she reconciles her loss. However, the sheer proximity to Sibylla, Holly and the other students forces Lou to engage with them and become embroiled in their relationships. Lou forms a connection with Sibylla’s genius childhood friend Michael and as Sibylla and Lou’s lives become intertwined over the term she realises she can move forward without ever forgetting Fred.

Wildlife covers a number of challenging themes, which are heightened by throwing the characters into a challenging environment. Themes include friendship, love, self-image, sexuality, and grief and loss. Fiona Wood explores these with sensitivity and an authenticity that will make you cry with Lou as she grieves, scream at Holly as she manipulates Sibylla and thank Michael as he leads Lou on the path to recovery.

Wildlife is a both heartaching and heartwarming; it is a story of both loss and love. Fiona Wood has handled these challenging themes with compassion and thoughtfulness, and experience and authenticity. Wildlife is an honest and raw coming of age book that will stand the test of time.

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