Sunday, 9 October 2011
Book Review: "Wild Child" by Mike Wells
Briana Fox is the wildest girl in school. She and Kyle have been close for a long time...almost lovers. But Kyle is afraid that if he pushes her, he'll have his heart broken and lose his best friend. When Briana challenges him to a swim across the lake, she's injured in a horrific accident, but she discovers a mysterious substance in an underwater cave that saves her life. What seems to be a magical yet harmless "power drug" invokes superhuman abilities, and Briana soon becomes dependent on it for her very survival. When two government agents learn of the discovery, they will stop at nothing to find the source and turn Briana into a human experiment. Is Kyle willing to risk everything to protect his love?
This is a book about contrasting and clashing approaches to issues: in "Wild Child" people don't tend to work together, they pull against each other: Kyle's caution versus Briana's impulsiveness; Brawn's exuberance versus Brains' stealth; medicine versus magic; authority versus rebellion; addiction versus restraint; Briana's selfishness versus Kyle's altruism. The result of all of this conflict is a fast paced, gripping novel which packs a punch far in excess of its tiny size.
I love a strong female character, and Briana leaps off the page from the first line, and leaves her imprint on the reader's retina long after the book closes. She's selfish, reckless, provocative, alluring and full of life. She takes advantage of Kyle's devotion to her and fizzes her way through the story. Her addiction to the green water leeches away some of her personality, and her increasing dependence on Kyle becomes quite touching, although scenes such as the one set in Tanya's treehouse serve to remind us that feisty Briana is still there, foreshadowing her return at the end of the story.
Kyle's character journey sees him remain true to his cautious ideals, but his trust in, and dependence on, authority crumbles and his actions become more reckless and daring, as his need to protect Briana, and his misplaced guilt at her situation, become his overriding concerns.
I loved the shifting power dynamic between Kyle and Briana. As Briana's wounds recur and her dependence on the green water becomes obvious she begins to fade and her power over the relationship wanes as Kyle's grows. The original tragedy is caused by Briana's power over Kyle and her impulsive spirit. the final tragedy is brought about by Kyle's protective nature and his new power in the relationship, augmented by his selflessness and his new daring.
I've noticed a tendency toward ambiguity and unpredictable endings in Mike's work, and I always find my perceptions challenged and my expectations turned on their head. And I love that Mike never judges his characters. He puts them on the page, lets them take their course, and never does anything so simplistic as to separate them into "right" and "wrong", and his work is the richer for it. We agree with Kyle that Briana shouldn't put her trust in the green water, and we feel that Briana bears responsibility for her situation and that her recklessness should be curbed. But Kyle's cautious approach is fraught with difficulty as well: he involves his father and by extent the Government. His caution is arguably as destructive as Briana's recklessness. Neither of them are right, they have stumbled into an impossible situation and are handling it the best way they can.
"Wild Child" is fast paced, with no extraneous detail. Secondary characters are pared down (Brawn and Brains aren't even named) to keep focus on Kyle and Briana's story. Kyle would have had to make his difficult choice sooner or later, but the secondary characters serve to force his hand sooner. I've read criticism of the fleeting secondary characters, but to me they were perfectly pitched: causing plenty of story complications without slowing the pace.
An energetic rollercoster of a book whose unconventional love story weaves its simple truths, and whose ending left me eagerly anticipating the sequel.
Reviews of the Wild Child Series: Wild Child- Book 2: Lilith
Reviews of other books by Mike Wells: Secrets of the Elusive Lover