The Wild Girls

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 ArchetypeWomen 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. 

11 Replies on “The Wild Girls

  1. Hi Kate,

    I’m so glad to hear you liked this book. I have it on my wish list.

    I was wondering if you could tell me, is there a reason this book is set in the 70’s? Is there anything in the book that couldn’t happen in today’s time? I guess I’m just curious as to why it was set in the 70’s. And the reason I’m wondering is that my wip is set in 1973 and I’m nervous that it will be regarded negatively. However, I feel my story could not take place in modern time.

    Thanks in advance for any insight you might have to offer. Your review was great and I really want to read this book!

  2. Interestingly enough, I remember reading a while ago that this book was set in the 70s, but it’s not something I ever thought about while I was reading. Thinking back, there are scenes at Berkeley, where the girls have their writing class, that are probably tied to the 70s, and the whole concept of questioning authority certainly took root during that time. That’s a big theme in the novel. But no – I don’t think that kids would read this and think, “Gee, this isn’t a modern story.” It feels like it could happen now.

    I’m glad you enjoyed the review. It’s a GREAT book, and I think you’ll love it, especially being a writer.

  3. What a fabulous review, Kate! You made me want to run out right now and buy it for myself! I want to walk on stilts, jump high in my Red Ball Jets, write an inspiring book etc. I’m going to read the book and pull quotes to help make that happen. 🙂

  4. To me, the 1970’s was a perfect fit. It was such a time of change for women, when there were expected roles, but a chance that a woman could bust out of them without becoming a pariah. Joan’s mom’s development is a really important part of the story, and I think that in an earlier historic setting, it would be easy to say “suck it up, that’s what women do”, while in a modern setting it would be too easy to “kick dad to the curb”.

    Also, it is modern enough to be modern, but not so modern that there was any intrusion of things like electronic devices. Because this was an exploration of the power of imagination and the importance of WRITING – not blogging, or texting, or whatever – and I think that’d be difficult to pull off in a 2007 setting.

    All in all, it has a wonderfully timeless, nostalgic feel – without the cloying sentiment that term usually implies.


  5. Ever since I finished reading it, I’m having these fantasies about teaching an all girls writing workshop this summer with WILD GIRLS as the introductory reading.