At times this 352 mature YA book was really hard to read for a variety of reasons: the subject matter, the writing style, the pacing of the story, and the numerous characters and inconsistencies. At other times, the book was descriptive, and ethereal and hard to put down. It took me over a month to finish the book because it really is all over the place and a lot of internal force and motivation was required to get through it, yet for all its flaws, I find my thoughts drifting back to it often. The book contains a lot of violence against women, as that is the thread that brings this feminist group together. There are hetero, lgbtq+, trans, and nonbinary individuals and relationships in the book, but they are not explicit, the rape, assault, suicide, prostitution, child trafficking and murder are more detailed. The book takes place all over the world, and often mentions the athan being called or a mosque being passed. Many characters have “Islamic” names, but there is no religion specifically practiced in this hijabi authored women powered tale.
The premise of the book is simple and straightforward. A girl, the daughter of a prostitute, is betrayed by her mother when she is sent to a man. As she runs through the city to escape, she crosses paths with a young boy who tosses her a box that contains stars. A star embeds itself in her palm and allows her to enter a place called the “Between.” The Between is a magical corridor made of magic that contains doors that lead to locations all over the world. Once she enters she stops aging and is now made of magic. She has the power to scream which can destroy other middle worlders and she can go invisible when around normal humans. She travels the world finding other girls betrayed by those who had been entrusted to protect them, and offers them a star and a place in the Wild Ones. This has been going on for centuries. When the boy with the star eyes is in danger, he is reunited with the girl and her gang, and they pledge to protect him.
WHY I LIKE IT:
The concept of the book is pretty good, but the plot for more than half of the book it seems focuses on the girls constantly arriving in a new location, exchanging diamonds for local currency, finding food, and getting settled in, before doing it all over again. It is repetitive and pointless. Sure it is nice to read about exotic locations and savor local foods, but these girls live forever essentially and we learn so little about them or what it is they do. Toward the middle of the book you start to see them helping other girls, but this should have been made clear much earlier on, I’m sure many people stopped reading before they saw how part of each girls’ healing involved helping others. It is not developed or shown, which I think other than the two encounters detailed would have created some connection between the characters and the reader.
The cause of most of the confusion is that there are 11 Wild Ones, and you never really get to know any of them, the point of view switches between Paheli, and unknown speaker, and it has pages of prose from other Wild Ones that are neither explanatory of their life before or in relation to what they are currently experiencing. The fourth wall is broken periodically, but inconsistently. So often, I just had no idea what was going on.
At times the characters speak like they are the teens that they are when they entered the Between, really noticeably and painfully, but they are decades old at the youngest, and centuries old for some of them. Also, Taraana is presented as a young small boy that needs coddling a lot, although he too is centuries old, but then as the girls start protecting him, he suddenly is this incredibly handsome man in love with Paheli. I get that their physical ages are suspended, so a relationship really might be possible and not creepy, but Taraana seemed to change, and it wasn’t explained.
The world building overall is weak, which is a shame, because it isn’t disjointed from the real world, it is just a slight addition to what the reader already knows. If the Between is just hallways how is there a library? Can you live in the Between? Can all middle worlders access it? If so why aren’t the corridors crowded?
The pain of the girls, their rage, their ability to deal with their traumas in their own way and time, is very empowering. I wish the sisterhood was more mutual than blindly following Paheli, like lost little children. These girls/women can decide what to partake it, and leave the group if they want, so they are strong and capable, they just don’t seem to get to show it as they bounce around from place to place to place eating and doing what they are told.
The book almost seems to have been written in sections and then dropped in to place. Much of the character information comes too late to make the story resonate. Sure part of it is intentional to clarify and create “aha” moments, but it creates really boring stagnant chapters, when these girls should be fierce and powerful, not lounging and mundane.
There were a few spelling errors and grammar gaps, but I read an advanced readers copy, so I’m hopeful they will be resolved.
Prostitution, rape, assault, suicide, death, murder, child trafficking, torture, drowning, infanticide, girl/boy kissing, girl/boy and girl/girl flirting. Many of the online reviews make it seem more lgbtq+ than I felt it was. There are two lesbian characters that flirt and imply that their relationship will move forward, but within the Wild Ones they aren’t all hooking up. Paheli and Taraana kiss, but nothing more graphic.
TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:
I don’t think there is any way I could do this as a book club selection at an Islamic school, nor would I want to. The book has powerful commentary on the status and crimes against women the world over, and possibly older, say early 20 year olds, would benefit from reading and adding their voices to a dialogue regarding life experiences. But, the story line might be too simplistic for older readers to bond with, and the confusion and inconsistencies may not be worth the time needed to finish the book.