Fiona Wood’s second novel addresses a theme that is common in Young Adult fiction: the loss of innocence. Wildlife, a cleverly composed coming-of-age novel, introduces the reader to the world of Crowthorne Grammar’s outdoor education campus at Mount Fairweather. Although it revisits the character of Lou from Wood’s début novel, Six Impossible Things (2010), Wildlife is an absorbing, stand-alone book.
Sibylla and Lou spend ten weeks in the ‘wilderness’ and confront what Lou identifies as ‘the big stuff: sex and death’. As Lou mourns the death of her boyfriend, Sibylla embarks on her first sexual relationship, with the enigmatic Ben Capaldi. Wood’s depiction of Lou’s grief is masterful. Rather than being forced to share Lou’s experience, the reader is invited to sympathise with her. Lou’s magnetic narrative voice skilfully evokes grief, inspiring genuine sympathy in the reader. Lou befriends Sibylla’s intelligent and self-contained childhood friend Michael; together they demonstrate Wood’s ability to create endearing characters.
Conversely, while Sibylla is an affable and often relatable character, her narrative voice does not engage the reader in the same manner as Lou’s. Notably, Sibylla’s failure to recognise her best friend Holly’s cruelty, instead attributing her jibes to ‘honesty’, can be alienating. Predatory and cunning, Holly suggests the eponymous wildlife as she fights to maintain dominance over Sibylla.
While it might have been difficult to match the appeal of Wood’s first book, Wildlife proves a worthy successor. Wood’s adroit use of Othello and her allusions to a wide variety of texts (such as works by Thoreau and Keats) reveal her confidence in her readers’ intelligence. Wildlife expertly shows us that, while the loss of innocence is a vital part of growing up, it is not an easy phase.