Wild Girls

Publisher: Doubleday Canada

A mix of Prep's critique of boarding school culture and the suspenseful and high-stakes plot of The Secret History, this highly original debut is part coming-of-age story, part riveting supernatural tale about teenage girls learning their own strength.

Kate Riordan fears two things as she grows up in the small Appalachian town of Swan River: that she'll be a frustrated townie forever, or that she'll turn into one of the monstrous Wild Girls that menace the community, throwing flame from their hands. Struggling to better her chances of escaping, Kate attends the posh Swan River Academy and finds herself divided between two worlds: the simple town and its dark twin, a commune off Bloodwort Road, where hippie farming and occult practices led to a disastrous end; and the realm of privilege and achievement at the Academy. Explosive friendships with Mason, a boy from the wrong side of the river, and Willow, a wealthy and charismatic queen bee from school, are slowly pulling her apart. Kate must decide who she is and where she belongs before she wakes up with cinders at her fingertips.


“Atwell navigates familiar territory, describing the usual jealousies, issues of social class, love triangles, and cults-of-personality that crop up in books featuring prep-school settings. But amid such familiar tropes, the paranormal touches are welcome, and Atwell works them into the narrative very well.”
Publishers Weekly
“Atwell’s debut artfully explores the dark side of growing up female, when girls either resist or embrace the ‘rage at their own powerlessness’. . . . This has an evocative, mysterious landscape as a backdrop; draws parallels between the wild girls and women of ancient mythology; and accurately captures the magnetic attract-repel nature of adolescent-girl friendships. In essence, this novel confirms what we already know: coming-of-age can be horrifying.”
“First-time novelist Atwell deftly mixes things up. Kate is a mature narrator whose sense of fairness and responsibility holds at bay the usual tensions over cliques, bullying, and competitive nastiness.”
Library Journal

“This beautifully written novel alternates lyrical passages with sharp eruptions of emotional fervor, with surprises on every page. The characters and the relationship between them are drawn with compassion and an utter lack of sentimentality. Wild Girls is an impressive debut from a writer we’ll be anxious to hear more from.”
—Alice LaPlante, author of Turn of Mind
“A thrilling and dangerous trek through the haunted wilderness of adolescence. You will lose yourself in the mist of Atwell’s implacable Appalacian landscape, in the mystical years of girlhood, in the mythology of violence, and you will find yourself in every character, in every stunning revelation. I simply loved this book.”
—Alison Espach, author of The Adults
“If Jeffrey Eugenides’ The Virgin Suicides were somehow miraculously to be gene-spliced with one of Joyce Carol Oates’ baroque backwoods concoctions, you might end up with something very much like Wild Girls: sensual, frightening, written in lines of diamond-hard prose. One could not ask for a more exciting first novel.”
—Pinckney Benedict, author of Miracle Boy and Other Stories

“Fire-lit from start to finish, Wild Girls is a story of Appalachian magic, conflagration, and supernatural violence; it is also a quiet and keenly perceptive account of the close ties (and the noose knots) that bind adolescent female friendships. Atwell has written a fantastic hybrid, part horror story and part bildungsroman: an elegy to the midnight selves that girls try to destroy, overcome, ‘outgrow’ on the way to adulthood, and a testament to their uncanny resilience.”
— Karen Russell, author of Swamplandia!