It started slow. First the teachers died one by one. Then it began to infect the students, turning their bodies strange and foreign. Now, cut off from the rest of the world and left to fend for themselves on their island home, the girls don't dare wander outside the school's fence, where the Tox has made the woods wild and dangerous. They wait for the cure they were promised as the Tox seeps into everything.
But when Byatt goes missing, Hetty will do anything to find her, even if it means breaking quarantine and braving the horrors that lie beyond the fence. And when she does, Hetty learns that there's more to their story, to their life at Raxter, than she could have ever thought true.
Comment: I brought this book from the library the last time I went there. I'll admit: it was only because of the cover so if those people who say covers don't matter, I should reply, that's not always true, especially if we are talking about a new or debut author (such as is the case here) where an established group of fans might not spread word so quickly.
This is the story of a group of female students who are in a school for girls located in an island and how they deal and cope with the effects of a toxin or epidemic, aptly named "tox", and how their bodies reacted to it, often killing the girls but also changing and deforming others. The world is going through the epidemic and the girls only have the help of the navy or something, so that they can keep having food and some medicine, which all arrives by boat. However, while waiting for a cure, there is worry and dangers everywhere, including the island animals. That is why the girls tend to stay in the school grounds, but when one of the protagonists goes missing, the other two will try their best to know what happened to her...
I can't decide if the impressions I got from this book weren't as great because of the writing or because the author seemed to have wanted to achieve such a goal that her plot got lost in the way. If this is her writing style, I should say I will not look for other things by her, but if she wanted to convey an idea more than a plot, than perhaps there's hope for something better (for me) if she matures her style.
Perhaps she was so focused on the idea of this book that she ignored other elements, such as finishing the novel in a more definite way? I say this because one thing is an "open end", where things happen and the reader can do their own interpretation, and another thing is what happened here, which to me, was a little too vague and apparently wanting to be mysterious/profound but that to me only felt like incomplete.
So, basically the story is about a group of girl students in a school in an island who need to fend for themselves when an epidemic strikes and many are killed. People talk about vibes from Lord of the Flies, which I haven't read, but what I do know makes me understand the connection but I really don't think the author was going that road. The survival group mentality the girls have isn't as much to keep things working, but because the author wanted to contrast that with the actions of the protagonists, when they want to find a missing friend. But, of course, anyone can read into it any way they want...
The girls are at the school, then people died, mostly teachers but also some students, and the protagonists Byatt, Reese and Hetty are determined in surviving until the cure. We see things through Hetty and Byatt's eyes, we get to understand some of the dynamics between them, we learn about strange things they do/believe in doing to keep having the help of the navy or such but it felt as if the author wanted to stress out her writing skills and her wording, which is fine, but then the sequence of events got a bit confusing and repetitive at times and it was difficult to keep track of the important information. I mean, there is so much being said, I struggled to decide which information mattered and what was just a filler up.
This said, I was also disappointed by the lack of feminist content. Apparently, this is one of the strong elements of the novel, but I got the feeling the word is only used because all the main characters are girls, not that there is real empowerment to the role of women in a fight or in advancing whatever. There are hints about LGBT relationships between some of the girls but apart from the fact they are all in a girls's school which facilitates proximity and shared interests, this subject was not addressed at all and nothing about it felt like relevant.
The truth is the big issue here is the epidemic and why it happened, why were the girls affected differently, why others died and the word "hormones" is mentioned but how and why wasn't really explained. We do learn what the "tox" is and what could happen to living beings in contact with it but...nothing else is explained either and the open end to allow readers to think felt like an easy way out, this way the author didn't have to inform readers about all the contextualization which would solve the mysteries and disclose more information.