It’s been eighteen months since the Raxter School for Girls was put under quarantine. Since the Tox hit and pulled Hetty’s life out from under her.
It started slow. First the teachers died one by one. Then it began to infect the students, turning their bodies strange and foreign. Now, cut off from the rest of the world and left to fend for themselves on their island home, the girls don’t dare wander outside the school’s fence, where the Tox has made the woods wild and dangerous. They wait for the cure they were promised as the Tox seeps into everything.
But when Byatt goes missing, Hetty will do anything to find her, even if it means breaking quarantine and braving the horrors that lie beyond the fence. And when she does, Hetty learns that there’s more to their story, to their life at Raxter, than she could have ever thought true.
Thank you so much to Netgalley for this ARC! I had went in expecting a Lord-of-the-Flies-esque story; with girls turning against girls and a constant fight for survival. I received both of these things, but in ways that I did not expect. We are thrown into Hetty’s nightmare world, eighteen months after her life turned upside down. She has been stuck on Raxter, an island with a girls only school and a dark, hidden secret.
The girls are wracked by a disease called the Tox that attacks their bodies in different ways. For Hetty, she lives life with one eye permanently closed– and something writhing behind it. She watches her friends and fellow schoolmates suffer through flare-ups; times when the disease makes some sort of change to them that they either power through or die trying. Tensions are high, supplies are low, and the only spark of hope is the dream of a cure that the CDC, Navy, and the bordering Camp Nash are reportedly hard at work trying to realize.
Hetty and her two closest friends, Byatt and Reese, are in the front lines as everything deteriorates quicker and quicker, and we quickly see the resourcefulness and strength of not only these characters but every single girl that we are introduced to. It reminds us that even in our darkest hour, women are a force to be reckoned with. These girls are doing the best they can to survive; fighting for food, killing diseased animals, and even sacrificing others for the greater good.
In light of this, I think that the author did a beautiful job of actually living in the grief and the guilt that these characters felt after having to commit these acts. If they had to kill someone, they were stained red to their very bones as the weight of a life soaked under their skin. The other people that these actions effect react in kind; they understand the path taken but something snaps, breaks, and may never be repaired in that relationship but they continue on.
The biggest theme in this book to me was just that; moving forward. Life gets so hard sometimes that it feels easier to just let it swallow you whole. Even when it seems like you’ve lost it all, you have to remember the people and dreams that drive you. Hetty, Reese, and Byatt are all the author’s will to live personified. She wrote something in her acknowledgement that stopped me and illuminated the book as a whole. She says, “Thank you to younger Rory, who decided to stay. I would not be here without you”.
I think Rory Power created an intoxicating whirlwind of a novel. I could not put it down. I had been reading it late at night, and I would be struggling to overcome the siren call of sleep begging for one more chapter. I woke up in the mornings clutching my kindle like a favored stuffed animal or security blanket, and I would just keep going from where I had left off. The action never stopped, and the bonds between our girls were as beautiful and original as the Raxter Blues. It’s a perfect debut!