The Wild Girls is a book for writers. It’s a book for girls who don’t always follow the rules and for girls who play with spotted newts. As a girl who enjoys writing, newts, and occasional rule-breaking, I fell in love immediately.
Pat Murphy tells the story of two girls — the rule-following Joan (aka Newt), who just moved to California from Connecticut and has always written the kinds of stories she thought her teacher would like, and Sarah (aka Fox), who hangs out throwing rocks in the woods near the run-down house where she lives with her dad, a motorcycle-writer-guy who doesn’t fit the image of any dad Joan has ever known. Fox and Newt form the kind of bond that can only be forged in secret clearings and treehouses, and together, they weather the storms of family trauma and trying (or not) to fit in among their peers. More than anything, though, they learn about writing and about the power of story to help us see truth — especially when truth is different from the story that the grownups are dishing out.
Joan and Sarah call themselves the Wild Girls — thus the title — and through this new sense of self, they’re able to confront questions that always lurked in the shadows before. This book reminds me of Clarissa Pinkola Estes’ Women Who Run with the Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype. Women Who Run With the Wolves is non-fiction aimed at adult readers, but the spirit of the two books feels the same.
There are so many fantastic moments in The Wild Girls. My copy is riddled with Post-It notes marking my favorite passages. One of them comes when Azalea, a colorful character Joan meets during a writing class on the Berkeley campus, offers her a chance to try walking on stilts.
I hesitated, thinking about it. “I don’t know. I’d probably fall.”
Azalea frowned fiercely, shaking her head. “That is the wrong attitude. That’s a Failure of the Imagination.” When she said that, I heard it in capital letters. By her tone, I knew that a Failure of the Imagination was a terrible and contemptible thing. “All it takes to walk on stilts is imagination. If you believe that you can walk on stilts, then you can.” She looked at me. “What do you think?”
What do I think? I think I after reading this book, I could walk on stilts…or finish my WIP…or jump across a stream…or…or….just about anything. It’s empowering in that way, and that makes it a perfect choice for kids, especially girls who love to read and write.