What Should Be Wild (ARC Review)

What Should Be Wild by Julia Fine
Publisher: Harper Books (May 8, 2018)
Description from the publisher:
Cursed. Maisie Cothay has never known the feel of human flesh: born with the power to kill or resurrect at her slightest touch, she has spent her childhood sequestered in her family’s manor at the edge of a mysterious forest. Maisie’s father, an anthropologist who sees her as more experiment than daughter, has warned Maisie not to venture into the wood. Locals talk of men disappearing within, emerging with addled minds and strange stories. What he does not tell Maisie is that for over a millennium her female ancestors have also vanished into the wood, never to emerge—for she is descended from a long line of cursed women.
But one day Maisie’s father disappears, and Maisie must venture beyond the walls of her carefully constructed life to find him. Away from her home and the wood for the very first time, she encounters a strange world filled with wonder and deception. Yet the farther she strays, the more the wood calls her home. For only there can Maisie finally reckon with her power and come to understand the wildest parts of herself.

This book was a definite departure from my normal fare of mostly literary and contemporary fiction. But, when I do find a fantasy novel that speaks to me, I love it with my whole heart. I have the most success with character and relationship driven stories, whether they are fantastical or not.  (The Raven Boys and The Night Circus are great examples of magical realism/fantasy that worked for me.)
There is certainly not a lack of unique characters in Fine's novel, and a great deal of them are quickly introduced at the beginning of the novel, as part of Maisie's family tree. At first, I had a hard time keeping the stories of her ancestors straight. Though, as the present day plot moves forward, interspersed are chapters dedicated to each of these women that were cursed and how they disappeared into the forest. This was my favorite aspect of the book, told like fables that engendered so much empathy for each of these women. The pace picks up as Maisie begins to interact with the real world in order to find her father. Her exceptional power, or curse depending upon how you look at it, is an engaging aspect of the book and makes for interesting interactions and I wished there were more scenes of Maisie navigating the outside world. 
Alas, I felt as if the main plot didn't have the same heft and emotional pull as the legends of her ancestors. There were so many abstract ideas, situations wherein it was tough for me to suspend my disbelief, and plot points that didn't seem to coalesce - nor did Maisie's relationships. There was so much potential for her romance with Matthew, her caretaker's nephew, as they join forces to find her father, but he is absent for a large part of the book and the time they do spend together is never really fleshed out. Three days waiting for at a mechanic's for a car part is rife with potential bonding moments, yet this time together is not delved into and is over in less than two pages. The same can be said of her relationship with her father. He disappears pretty early in the book, and their interactions told in flashbacks are brief. 
That being said, I thought much of the writing to be lovely, enjoyed the creepy atmosphere and can pretty confidently say that it will go over well for those who really adore fantasy. I also found what Fine was trying to convey about the dangers of the stories we tell ourselves, living our truth, of embracing womanhood, and feminism admirable. Though I wasn't entirely sure of what was going on, I desperately wanted to - and furiously turned the pages until the end. Overall it was an intricate and thought provoking story and I'd love to hear other readers thoughts - and maybe answer a question or two for me! 
Many, many thanks to the wonderful people at Harper Books for an advance review copy!


  1. I'm with you on this one- loved her writing, but the vast cast and multiple plot lines (the girl in the forest?, what the men thought they'd get from Maisie?) were a problem for me. I felt as if, underneath it all, Fine was writing a novel about the mistreatment of women through the centuries and was pretty heavy-handed about it.