Erin Saldin’s The Girls of No Return is a lacerating young adult debut about girls, knives, and redemption. The Alice Marshall School, set within a glorious 2-million acre wilderness area, is a place where teenage girls are sent to escape their histories and themselves. Lida Wallace has tried to negate herself in every way possible. At Alice Marshall, she meets Elsa Boone, Jules, and Gia Longchamps, whose glamour entrances the entire camp. As the girls prepare for a wilderness trek, Lida is both thrilled and terrified to be chosen as Gia’s friend. Everyone has their secrets – the “Things” they try to protect; and when those come out, the knives do as well.
Five words: Not what I was expecting.
I actually have really mixed feelings about this book right now. Not sure if I like it, not sure if I don’t. Ehhh.
I picked this book off the shelf, so I hadn’t checked in on it on Goodreads. I just started reading it. And whoah! Erin Saldin can write mental health. And the idea for a wilderness school? Original. Not the most original, I’ve heard about something like this a few times before, but it’s definitely miles away from overused.
What attracted me to this book was the cover. At first I wasn’t sure if that was an apostrophe between the l and the s or just a line off the l, so I wanted to see what it was. And then I read the synopsis.
In a way, this book kind of reminds me of Libba Bray’s Beauty Queens. I, actually, was not the hugest fan of that book. Didn’t even finish it. But, that isn’t to say that The Girls of No Return went the same way. I think that Erin Saldin really incorporated the gritty, realistic, thriller-esque darkness that I just felt was a little bit lacking from Beauty Queens.
Oh yeah, and the characters? Beautiful. I loved how Erin Saldin made them. How their secrets had come to define every move they made. Just the simple plausible nature of that trick fascinated me. There was nothing held back in their characters. As they moved on from their mistakes and continued to make mistakes as they tried to navigate through their old ones, I was almost as grateful to Erin Saldin for these characters as I was to Elizabeth Eulberg for Sophie and Emme in Take a Bow.
Even if nothing else speaks to me, I have to admit that the initial setup of the story is fascinating. It was kind of funny, this passage from Lida on page 30.
“Boone? I thought. What kind of a name was that?”
Boone is the name of a boy I used in my second story, set in a dystopian France. The reason I chose Boone as a name is because I stumbled upon it on a list of French boy names and I decided it sounded cool. So that was fun for me, to see another Boone.
What was kind of awkward for me was the setup. Initially, i had to stare at pages 36 and 37, where the way Erin Saldin formatted this fully hits you. To be honest, I thought it was cool and kind of clever when I first got it. Later on in the story though, it gets a little bit distracting and annoying.
The best part of this book was the writing of the hugely climatic and heartbreaking scenes. I think Erin Saldin writes those scenes really well, and they’re more than just a one-time occurrence. Few people naturally know how to write those tear-jerking, heartbreaking scenes, and I don’t know if Erin Saldin had this talent naturally–but all I got to say is that she writes those parts pretty dang well.
All in all, 3.8 stars. It just wasn’t enough for me to give it four stars. I just… feel like something is missing, somehow. Not that there is a hole in the plot or the book is not well written, because it is, but something’s just off. Pretty great book, but I don’t think it’s for me.
pg count for the hardback: 248
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