The Wild Ones is Nafiza Azad’s second novel – and it’s certainly a wild ride. If you’ve ever wanted to read a YA novel that tosses away the worst tropes of the genre and replaces them with unique storytelling and a beautifully diverse cast of characters, you won’t want to miss this one.
Paheli, betrayed into horrible circumstances by her own mother, escapes and meets Taraana, a boy who gives her a box of stars before he disappears. The stars give her magic as well: She gains access to the Between, a world of magic that can also be used to travel the mortal world (and its beautiful cities, which hide their magic from mere humans). Paheli becomes the first of the Wild Ones – a family of magical girls who, like her, were rescued from exploitation and loss. They roam around collecting more girls in need of saving, always existing on the edges of the magical and non-magical worlds, until Taraana reappears… and he needs their help. He’s being hunted by beings who want to destroy him to take his powers; if that happens, both the Wild Ones and magic itself are at risk of destruction too. Magic girl gang to the rescue!
The Wild Ones features plenty of things you might expect from this kind of story (a great cast of characters, a creative magic system, and sisterly bonding, for a start) – but also things that were a surprise to me. Unlike in most of my experiences with YA fantasy, this story really takes the time to be introspective. Readers get to see inside the heads of all the Wild Ones and truly feel the weight of their thoughts as they move through their world. I ended up liking this, but it can admittedly get confusing – the first-person point of view shifts between sections without clear labels, so it’s not always obvious which character is narrating each chapter.
There are also some pretty stark differences in writing style between each chapter that make it feel almost like an experimental art piece at times. Some sections are vivid prose, others are straightforward and unadorned, and others are even poetry. While this is cool, it took me out of the story a little, which was a bit disappointing. There’s a lot to enjoy about these heroines – I wanted to be able to be absorbed by their stories rather than having to focus on determining who was talking and whether what they were saying was part of the overall plot or more just “commentary” on the types of issues they face.
One word of caution – this book is definitely on the “adultier” side of young adult fiction. Heavy topics abound (although I feel they’re respectfully handled), so you’ll want to look up trigger warnings if you don’t like seeing certain content in your reading.
Otherwise, though, The Wild Ones is a fascinating read with an empowering message of hope, especially for the ladies out there – I highly recommend it if you’re looking for something a little different in your YA/fantasy TBR pile!
A copy of this book was provided by the publisher, Simon & Schuster, for review.