A group of girls are trapped at an island boarding school as their bodies mutate and change underneath them.
In trying to consider why this book worked so well for me, I keep coming back to this: This is one of the most chilling books I have ever read. (If you’re really turned off by body horror probably don’t read this. I mean it.) The writing is excellent—the odd style, slipping between long sentences and short beats, contributes well to the atmosphere—and the anxious tone is wonderful.
We follow three characters:
→Hetty : An unassuming hero. Better at making the hard choices than you initially expect.
→Byatt : A lot of unexpected backstory. Also my least favorite character on a personal level.
→Reese : Very complicated and very damaged by the loss of her father. Also would’ve totally been my type two years ago.
The complicated dynamics of friendships between queer girls are a front center of this book. Reese, Hetty, and Byatt have a complex dynamic, built up by years of baggage; Byatt is the friend in the middle, the person they’re both close to. Hetty envies her dynamic with Reese, and maybe is a little jealous, too—of one or both. Two things [SPOILER]: [A few goodreads reviews essentially said ‘it’s so weird that hetty liked byatt for so long and suddenly she kissed reese… it’d been like three days!’. i appreciate this viewpoint. unfortunately this is just what being gay is like and i maybe did do this exact shit in the same time frame in the month of December 2019. so like, it resonated. ] [Also this is RANDOM but someone on twitter referred to hetty and reese as ‘adam and ronan from trc but girls’ and it’s WEIRDLY fitting. like really fitting. it’s a good dynamic and i’m here for it.]
The building of the world forms a strange metaphor for two things: one, growing up as a girl, and two, consumption of body. As the main characters’ bodies change underneath them, they feel differentiated, othered from themselves. But those changes are not necessarily always bad, not for every person.
SPOILER: [I read Byatt taking the worm out of her system and then not surviving as an idea of her attempting to do away with her own body. In the logic of the book, that would be a death-causing move.]
I loved this book; actually, this book was working pitch-perfect for me. Yes, certain plot points at times went unexplained, but it worked: I was as confused as the characters, leaving me on the edge of my seat, and I felt confident the payoff would be worthwhile. There was very little, I thought, that could mess up how much I liked the book. Except for… the ending. [Which doesn’t answer a single mystery set up by the book. Not even whether the characters survive.] In her review, Hadeer put it that the payoff was not proportional to the setup, which is a really clever way of putting it so I’m quoting that.