"I think I'd been looking for it all my life--a storm in my body to match the one in my head."
Raxter school for girls is isolated and quarantined, nestled in a forest changed by the Tox. The trees grow taller, the animals more vicious, and the people who survive infection are different too--a girl with gills, a silver-scaled hand, two heartbeats in one chest.
As the days stretch on, survival becomes less certain, and each girl more callous, willing to pay in each other's blood for their own lives. There is a deep sense of at least it wasn't me or someone I love.
The comparison to Lord of the Flies was spot on for me. It's not the same story by any means, but that's to be expected in the gender-bend alone, never mind the addition of deadly and devastating mutations. The core question is present in both stories: what will literal children do to survive, and what does that say about us? The answer in both cases seems to be: whatever they are capable of, and nothing good.
At the risk of punning, Rory Power is a powerful voice in YA horror. She proves that the possible and reality adjacent can be at least as unsettling as the paranormal. Her descriptions are visceral, prickling at your skin as new terrors bloom and bleed from each character. While at times stomach-turning, the body horror was so exquisitely executed. But the true horror lies in what we do to each other.
The relationships at the core of this story are what make it all the more horrific. As readers, we're at the center of an unfolding tragedy, in the hearts of three girls with no way out. But their love for each other--while complicated--is fierce and unyielding. It's that love that compels the story forward as they fight not only for themselves but each other.
There are so many things to appreciate about this book, but my favorite was the introspection in the two POVs. Power took a scalpel to what it feels like to be human, digging under the skin to find a creeping truth.
I recommend this book for fans of Annihilation, for the beauty in the horror, and ruthless survival stories that hold nothing back. This book is not gentle with your stomach or your heart.