Posted in [fiction reviews]

[Fiction Review] “What Should Be Wild” by Julia Fine

Full Title: What Should Be Wild
Author: Julia Fine
Published: May 2019 by Harper Perennial
Genres: Fiction, Magical Realism, Coming of Age, Fantasy, Adult Fiction
Edition Details: 368 pages, hardcover
Source: Borrowed
Rating: {3.5/5 stars}

This review is spoiler free.

First Glance

My wife’s coworker gave her this book after hearing about some of the other books I’ve read. She said it was my kind of weird. Considering the description includes a family curse and the power to kill at the slightest touch, I figured she was right.

Positive Bits

I happen to enjoy stories that switch perspectives, as long as we’re given clear guidance on who the speaker is for each section. The author did so throughout this book, swapping from the main character Maisie to her female ancestors to build the story. It played an important role in fleshing out the family curse and Maisie’s personal experience of it. Each change in perspective was clearly marked.

Magical realism is that dark kind of lovely to read. It always feels like zooming into a story with magic, whereas we often view it from high above. Instead of showing me how hard it is to live with deadly touch, the author has Maisie weeding the garden by touching certain vines at their base (efficient!). Her actions have a hesitant kind of grace, born of necessity as she dances around touching the living things in her life. I think the real beauty of magical realism is in how successfully it brings magic into our reality, playing it out to its obvious conclusions.

The story of Maisie’s family and the ancestors we meet are tragic and deeply intertwined with Maisie’s own story. Each is fleshed out in a way that builds someone with their own personality and goals, rather than a prop to tell the main character’s story. The other characters in the cast (outside of her family) are equally well told, allowing you to ride along with Maisie while understanding the actions and motives of those around her. Any surprises are based on purposeful plot points, rather than accidental plot holes.

Less Enjoyable Bits

I struggled with what to rate this book, honestly. In my personal rating system, I used 1-10 as options; the 3.5 stars would be 7 in that system, listed as “the book was good, but there were plot holes or tropes that got in the way of full enjoyment – will not keep.” To be fair, “will not keep” just means I have limited shelf space and likely won’t reread this book.

As for the things that got in the way of full enjoyment, there’s not a lot of specifics I can give without ruining the plot. I found that the primary and secondary antagonists we meet just don’t sit well with me. Maisie is made a victim and rests in that place for quite a while, making me frustrated and uncomfortable with her lethargy in the face of being misused. Later, the “climax” kind of fizzles out with the main antagonist not antagonizing Maisie at all once they finally meet. The ending is what I expected it to be, but it was built up to something dramatic only to be solved with a handshake, so to speak.

Because of the ending more than anything else, I don’t know how I’d recommend this book to someone. If asked about this book directly or asked for suggestions on books with magical realism done well, I’d say it’s an interesting read and definitely weird in a good way. But I don’t think this book will be one I choose to suggest to others outside of that window.

Tidbits Worth Repeating

Nothing begs question of permanence, of sin, like the power to kill and revive. Nothing promises revival like a fairy tale.

Tamed. A word for a wild girl made obedient. A word for a hawk with clipped wings, a declawed tiger. A word that made me safe.

Peter would have said that behaviors are determined by principles, theories. That the difference between Theory of God and Theory of Not God was actually quite slim, each a slightly different lens through which to choose to view the world. One a shade lighter, the other negligibly darker – what mattered was that both were held up to the eye and used to filter our experience.

Is it worth the coin?

Yes – if you’re looking for a book with magical realism and a dark family history, this is a good choice.


bookdragon, poet, witch

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