Review: Fairytales for Wilde Girls
Sad, lonely girls everywhere will recognize a kindred spirit within the clever words and inner angst of Allyse Near’s novel.
Fiction | Novel
Perfect-bound trade paperback
Also available in eBook formats
Random House Australia
Review originally published on 4/27/15
Isola Wilde, the protagonist of Allyse Near’s Fairytales for Wilde Girls, is a lonely girl. She is the epitome of the sad, weird girl with whom no one really wants to deal. Her father, referred to as Father Wilde due to Isola’s flare for dramatics, is obsessed with avoiding her mother. They live in a divided house — the upstairs being her mother’s domain, while her father never dares a foot past the first step. Isola is caught between them on a bridge that burned long ago. She struggles with her parents living-together-alone dynamic, mainly due to the isolation is causes her. While she loves her mother whole-heartedly, she is old enough to understand her mother’s illness is contained within her own mind, not in those around her. Just beneath the surface of all of Isola’s thoughts is the fear of catching the same disease.
Named after Oscar Wilde’s tragically short-lifed younger sister, it seems the cards have always been set against Isola. Her mother is too consumed by her depression to be a parent, her father too concerned with avoiding the subject, and her only friends are at a loss on how to deal with Isola’s seemingly unhealthy eccentricities.
Isola attends a private Catholic school out of family tradition, not religious practice. She is unpopular with the nuns and mean girls alike. Her best, and only, school friend, Grape, is another outcast, as well. But it’s Isola’s non-human friends that give her real comfort and camaraderie. Isola refers to them as her seven princes, seven brothers to protect and understand her. While not all of these knights in shining armor are male (some are faeries, some are ghosts, and one is even a mermaid), they all have a fierce love and loyalty for, and to, Isola. They are the pillars that keep her upright.
Her family lives on the outskirts of a small town, Avalon, next to Vivien’s Wood, an eerie wooded area that is rumored to have dark goings-on. In turn, Isola, not surprisingly, loves fairytales. Her favorite collection is Les Fables et les Contes de Fees de Pardieu or The Pardieu Fables and Fairytales by Lileo Pardieu. The tome is a limited-edition, handwritten collection of fairytales featuring the stories of girls Isola recognizes herself in. Its preface reads:
These stories, fables and memories are all true in one way or
These stories are about you and me.
These stories feature:
— girls who kill
— girls who are killed
— girls who are alive
— and girls who are otherwise. (p. 50).
Isola is obsessed with the collection. She rereads it with the devotion of a disciple and covets Pardieu as her most trusted hero. But when Isola’s life truly starts to resemble those of the girls who kill and are killed in the stories, she starts to question if she is as strong as she once believed.
The brightest light in Isola’s life is her budding romance with her new next-door neighbor, Edgar, a recovering transplant patient and child of a free-spirited hippy mother. But not long after meeting Edgar, Isola stumbles across something terrible in Vivien’s Wood while walking with one of the brother-princes: The Dead Girl. From that day on, it all becomes far more complicated. The Dead Girl is a mysterious and strange ghost Isola isn’t used to dealing with and who has no kindness for Isola, often demanding she turn down the sound of her loud heartbeat:
Isola didn’t know what to say. Ghosts often said strange things, as though conducting conversations half in dream, one foot hooked desperately in the doorway of the living world they’d been dragged so unceremoniously from. Sometimes they mistook Isola for old friends or enemies. Sometimes they entangled their fates with the red string of hers and she learned to call them brothers. (p. 53).
In addition to Pardieu, Isola’s favorite authors are Edgar Allan Poe, Sylvia Plath, and Emily Dickinson. She references and quotes them frequently, like any clever teenage girl with too much repressed family drama and teenage angst bottled inside. Isola’s big imagination has plenty of source material to construct her own intricate world. It’s the reader’s job to distinguish the line between fact and fiction.
I applaud Near for the character she created in Isola Wilde. Sad, lonely girls across the world will recognize a kindred spirit within her clever words and inner angst. The novel is multiple storylines: Isola’s, Pardieu’s, Edgar’s, but they combine smoothly and work together rather than against each other. Ultimately, the novel is about Isola, but like in life, you can’t tell one person’s story without explaining another’s.
If you are not a fan of fairytales, true fairytales that don’t always have happy endings, the novel is not for you. If you are not a fan of Poe, Plath, or Dickinson, the heavy-handed references might put you off, as well. While there are quite a few references and quotes by said authors, they are not used superfluously. Near doesn’t linger long directly on the issue of mental illness, primarily portrayed in Mother Wilde, but it and all the difficulties it causes are present. The book is marketed as a Young Adult novel, and while I would not disagree with the categorization, I would urge those who typically shy away from that genre to give this work a chance.