This reading group guide for Wild Girls includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.
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Kate Riordan’s hometown of Swan River is a mysterious place, plagued by a history of murderous young women that the locals call “wild girls.” Officials have been excusing their dangerous behavior for centuries, but rumors swirled about ordinary teenage girls suddenly able to fly or throw flames from their fingertips. Having grown up with these stories, Kate just wants to make it through boarding school without being turned into a wild girl so that she can escape to a picturesque college campus up north.
Kate isn’t exactly the kind of student Swan River Academy usually gets. She can only afford it because her mother is the school secretary, while most of the other girls are from posh towns and established families. Divided between two very different worlds, Kate becomes tangled up in two unusual and unstable friendships that will bring those worlds together and change hers irrevocably. Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. Kate’s friendship with Willow goes through many ups and downs. Why is it so difficult for Kate to give up on Willow even after being disappointed and let down by her? Why is she unable to just walk away whenever Willow comes asking for her help again?
2. Throughout the novel, Kate wonders what causes someone to become a wild girl. What are your hypotheses? Why do you think Maggie and Willow in particular became wild girls? Would Willow have become one even without Dr. Bell’s influences?
3. Reread Mrs. Lemmons predictions for Kate and Willow on pages 27-28 and discuss them in light of the novel’s ending. Do you agree with Dr. Bell that Mrs. Lemmons was a fraud, or do you think she was actually able to see the future for Kate and Willow?
4. While the town of Swan River is vividly described, it’s never explicitly stated where or when the narrative takes place. What are some of the clues as to where Swan River is or in what year the book is set? What effect did not knowing these specifics have on your reading experience?
5. Several characters seem to be obsessed in one way or another with the wild girls. What motivates each of their obsessions?
6. Compare Kate’s relationship with Willow to her relationship with Mason. How are they similar? What attracts her to each of them?
7. There are many depictions of poor parenting in the novel—from overly controlling to completely uninvolved. Discuss the different parent characters and how their methods affect their children.
8. Discuss Kate’s recurring dream about the bottom of the river. What do you think it means?
9. The male characters in the book aren’t always what they appear. Kate recognizes that maybe she misjudged Kevin, a.k.a. Kayak Boy, and didn’t give him the credit he deserves. Discuss the other male characters, including Travis, Dr. Bell, Malcolm, and Clancy. In what ways do they turn out differently than you may have anticipated?
10. On page 285, Frances imagines what Willow’s life would be like if she had lived. What do you think would have become of Willow?
11. When asked about what she would do if she thought someone was becoming a wild girl, Maggie’s advice to Kate was, “…I would tell her to add up everything that matters to her—the people she loves, her hopes for the future. Put that on one side of the scale, and on the other, put the satisfaction of destroying what you hate.” What do you think it was that Willow wanted to destroy? What kept her from destroying all of Swan River?
12. After everything she’s witnessed, Kate tells Clancy that she “wouldn’t know how to love anybody right now” (p. 280). Do you think that’s true, or does she just not love Clancy? Seeing how the rest of her life turns out, do you think she will ever learn how to love somebody?
13. Does Kate really does have a wild girl inside her that she keeps at bay by choosing to do good? In some sense, don’t we all? Enhance Your Book Club
Kate grew up hearing about the murders and mysteries surrounding the wild girls of Swan River. Has there been any local lore passed down in your hometown? If you don’t know of any town secrets off hand, do a little research online and see if you can dig anything up to share with the group.
Embrace the supernatural—get out the old Ouija board and see if anything is stirring.
Mason tells Kate, “You want to help somebody, help your own people first.” (p. 105) Take his advice and find a local organization for you and your reading group to volunteer at after your next meeting.