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The Wild Girls
Pat Murphy
Viking, 302 pages

Pat Murphy
Pat Murphy's second novel, The Falling Woman, won the Nebula for best novel published in 1987. That same year, her novelette "Rachel in Love" won a Nebula, the Isaac Asimov Reader's Award, and the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award. In 1990, a short story collection, Points of Departure (Bantam), won the Philip K. Dick Award for best paperback original. In 1991, her novella "Bones" won the World Fantasy Award.

When not writing SF, she writes for the Exploratorium, San Francisco's museum of science, art, and human perception, founded by Dr. Frank Oppenheimer (brother to Robert Oppenheimer, the father of the Atom Bomb). Titles include By Nature's Design (Chronicle Books), a book of photos and text about recurring natural patterns, The Color of Nature (Chronicle Books, Fall 1996), and The Science Explorer (Holt, 1996), a book of science activities for families. She has also taught writing at Stanford University's Creative Writing Program, the University of California at Santa Cruz and the Clarion Workshop at Michigan State University.

Pat Murphy Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: The James Tiptree Award Anthology 3
SF Site Review: The James Tiptree Award Anthology 2
SF Site Review: The James Tiptree Award Anthology 1
SF Site Review: The James Tiptree Award Anthology 1
SF Site Review: The James Tiptree Award Anthology 1
SF Site Review: Adventures In Time And Space With Max Merriwell

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Paul Kincaid

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The Wild Girls Given the increasingly complex games with authorship that her most recent novels have played, and given how much non-fiction she has written for children, it was perhaps inevitable that Pat Murphy would write a young adult novel about writing. Which is precisely what The Wild Girls is, though if you expect anything of the subtlety or complexity of those novels you are going to be disappointed. This is writing reduced to a simple lesson in life, light, appealing and entertaining but very definitely aimed at a younger audience by removing any doubts, hesitations or darker aspects.

It is a mainstream novel set in California in 1972. Joan is 12, her family has just moved here from Connecticut and the strains are showing. The first person she meets is Sarah, who prefers to be called Fox and who is still mourning the loss of her mother who walked out some years before. Sarah has mythologised this event as her mother transforming into a fox, hence her chosen name. Since the separation, Fox's father has become a successful science fiction writer, and he pretty well leaves Fox to get on with her life the way she wants. Which is how come she is living in isolated splendour in a woodland glade when Joan first encounters her.

Because they both feel isolated, within their families and within their school community, the two girls are drawn together. When there is a competition to write a story they collaborate on a fantasy about wild girls living in the woods and about people transformed into animals that clearly draws on their own situations. Unexpectedly, the story wins a prize in a national competition. At the ceremony, where they are due to read their story, they impetuously paint their faces like the wild girls of their story, a first moment of rebellion (face painting as a symbol of independence is something that crops up more than once in this short novel). As a result of their prize, and even more as a result of their performance at the ceremony, the two are invited to attend a summer school for young writers based at Berkeley. Here they find a community among the other children on the course, all of whom feel isolated from their fellows. But more importantly as they learn how to be writers -- the observation, the honesty, the way to see things from someone else's point of view -- they are able to apply the lessons to their own lives, coming to understand and hence cope with the strains within their own families.

During the course of the summer, Fox sees the return and then final departure of her mother while Joan watches as her parents' quarrels lead to counselling and separation. And the writing is their way through it all.

The Wild Girls is clearly written and very readable, but in its praise of writing as a way of coping with whatever the world may throw at you it feels somewhat simplistic. Nevertheless there are lessons conveyed throughout the book which never intrude on or slow down the story. And if the famous writer who leads the course, the family friends and the others they encounter along the way seem formulaic, the two girls are both vividly and sympathetically drawn, so you want to keep reading to find out what happens to them.

Copyright © 2007 by Paul Kincaid

Paul Kincaid is the recipient of the SFRA's Thomas D. Clareson Award for Distinguished Service for 2006. He is the co-editor of The Arthur C. Clarke Award: A Critical Anthology.


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