Truth time. I only picked up my latest read because it’s nominated for next year’s South Carolina Young Adult Book Award. The Girls of No Return by Erin Saldin is definitely not my normal fare. In all honesty, the minute I realized that much of the story took place in the wilderness, I lost a little bit of interest. (I’m not an outdoorsy kind of gal…and that may be the understatement of the year.) That didn’t really change through much of the book. Normally, it takes me just a few days to finish a book. This one took me two weeks. (I will confess, though, that I read the last half of the book in about a day. If you can get through the first part, the latter half goes pretty fast.)
In The Girls of No Return, readers are introduced to Lida, a troubled girl who is being sent to the Alice Marshall School for Girls, a place for girls with issues to come to terms with themselves and the mistakes they’ve made in the past.
This school is located in the wilderness of Idaho (in the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness Area…hence the name of the book), and Lida is sure she’s going to experience more of the misery she’s come to expect in her life. And she’s not totally wrong. Each girl at the school has her Thing, the reason she was sent to AMS in the first place. The school encourages the girls to talk about their issues, but Lida isn’t sure she can really do that. Some things are just too personal.
Lida is in a cabin with other sixteen-year-olds, but she does her best to keep to her self. A couple of her cabin-mates, though, seem determined to bring Lida out of her shell. One of those is Jules, a girl who is full of life and appears thrilled with her place at Alice Marshall. The other is Boone, a kind of scary, tough girl who, after cutting Lida’s hair on her first night at AMS, seems to consider Lida something close to a friend.
Things change for Lida, however, with the arrival of a mysterious new girl at the school. Gia is immediately the most popular girl at AMS. Everyone wants to know more about this beautiful, glamorous girl and why she was sent to this school, but Gia seems to have set her sights on Lida. She seeks Lida out, asks questions about her life, and bestows small nuggets of kindness, things that Lida never experienced in her old life. Lida is quickly growing dependent on Gia’s attention, and that’s about to lead to trouble…
It becomes obvious very quickly that Boone, the school’s resident tough girl, absolutely loathes Gia. How, then, can Lida continue being friends with the popular girl while keeping the peace with Boone? The answer: She really can’t. Lida resorts to lies to maintain the status quo, but those lies are catching up with her.
As Lida prepares for her solo wilderness trek, things are about to come to a boiling point. Boone and Gia are on a collision course, and Lida is stuck in the middle. All of her deceptions are about to be revealed, and she’ll have to decide which girl means more to her…a decision that could have disastrous consequences.
Will Lida come to terms with her Thing? Will she finally confront her demons at Alice Marshall? Or will her experiences there give her even more inner demons to battle?
Okay, so I think I’ve managed to make this book sound pretty good above…and at times, I really enjoyed it (especially at the end). All in all, though, this was not one of my favorite books, and it could be a hard sell to many teens. If they can get past the first half of the book, however, I think readers will be very invested in what happens to Lida, Boone, and Gia. I, for one, am totally on Team Boone. I also hated Gia from the minute she entered the book, and I was certain she would be bad news for Lida. Spoilers! I do so love it when I’m right.
I do think this book should be targeted to high school readers. Middle school readers may not be quite mature enough for some of the content, and, as one can imagine in a book about troubled teen girls, there is a fair amount of language. There’s also mention of smoking, drugs, alchohol, and sex, so proceed with caution when recommending this to younger teens.
If you know of a teen reader who thrives in the wilderness, has an interest in camping/roughing it, or who may have his/her own difficult issues to work through, The Girls of No Return might be a good fit. It wasn’t totally my cup of tea, but another reader might bring a whole new set of experiences to this book and really find what he or she is looking for.
The Girls of No Return is the debut YA novel from author Erin Saldin. To learn more about this book and the author, click here.