“..my heart is its own fierce country where nobody else is welcome.”“Q: And who the hell do I think I am?A: I have no idea.” The long-awaited companion to Wood’s much-loved debut, Six Impossible Things, does not disappoint. Wildlife is a beautiful and bittersweet novel of heartbreak and healing, friendship and betrayal; an achingly authentic portrayal of coming of age against a backdrop of the Victorian wilderness. Where there was a certain light-hearted buoyancy that tempered the issues explored in Six Impossible Things, Wildlife has an emotional resonance and depth that befits both the maturation of the characters and the themes of the novel. This is a story that navigates the complexities of grief, sexuality and (not) fitting-in, written with a perceptive grasp of how the teen characters internalise and process these events. The writing is a blend of lyrical and astute, laced with the raw longing and heady desire of heartbreak and burgeoning attraction. Related through the dual perspectives of Sibylla and Lou, Wood weaves a narrative of loss and love, gradually entwining the lives of the two girls as they learn to survive in the wild. “Greatest pain in the world: the moment after waking. Remembering again as consciousness slaps my face in the morning’s first sigh. Nips fresh the not-healed wound. Clubs its groundhog self into my brain, a new sharp bite, a new blunt instrument for every single day of the week. Grief has so many odd-value added features. You’d laugh.” Using the setting of an outdoor education program, Wood places her characters into a heightened environment – here, life is distilled, concentrated down to its fundamental elements. In one sense, it’s survival in the physical world, stripped of outside influences and support networks. In another, it creates an incubator that intensifies and tests allegiances. This concept of habitat and isolation from external factors serves to pressurise relationships, forcing them to either evolve or disintegrate. “Sometimes I think I see you, Sibylla, but then you get all blurry about what people think about you… The only person you should be is yourself. You can’t control perception. All you can control is how you treat someone else.” Into this amplified reality, Wood mixes envy and manipulation, referencing the novel’s Othello motif in the dynamic of Sibylla and Holly’s friendship. The longevity of the relationship and the tenuous balance of power that both girls have grown accustomed to is challenged when the limelight suddenly falls on Sibylla. With this new attention, the roles they occupy within the school’s social order are shifted, presenting opportunity, confusion, and a catalyst for the toxicity of their friendship to emerge. It’s an insightful portrayal of the insidious creep of jealousy and cruelty, the way lines between friend and enemy can be obscured by years of shared history, and the complex nature of female friendships. Within this framework, Wood also addresses perceptions of beauty and popularity, particularly as it relates to the hierarchy of high school. The concept of Sibylla’s beauty and how it is viewed and acknowledged by the characters is handled particularly intelligently; Wood has smart, interesting things to say about self-image and change, and the frequent dichotomy between the way we see ourselves, and the way others see us. Wildlife is frank in its depiction of sex and desire – in both the physical acts and feelings, and in attitudes towards sexuality. Anyone who thinks YA shies away from candidly portraying teen girls’ responses to sex needs to read this book, because it’s handled openly and positively, even while it acknowledges the negative messaging and misogyny that saturate mainstream media. Wildlife is refreshingly honest, addressing the imbalance while remaining true to the characters – who are complex, fallible, three-dimensional. But most of all, I loved the achy ambiguity of the relationships, the palpable sense of yearning that accompanies reality when it doesn’t quite match the characters’ expectations. Wood has a keen grasp of how it feels to be in this emotional limbo, and it comes across raw and compelling in her writing. It’s like being fifteen all over again – exposed, vulnerable, yet brave - tasting the world for the first time and being surprised that the sweetness can be laced with the bitter. A novel about testing new realities, survival and nine-letter words, Wildlife is utterly gorgeous.