Last year, editor Cheryl Klein asked if I'd be interested in reading a book about three girls at wilderness school. I knew very little more about the book, but for some reason, "wilderness school" hooked me. That book was The Girls of No Return, a debut contemporary YA by Erin Saldin, and I absolutely loved it.
It's set at the Alice Marshall School for Girls, which is a school for troubled girls — yes, you could call it a "reform school" — located in the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness Area in Idaho. The Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness Area really does exist (and the realness of the setting is one of the things I loved the most about the novel), but I believe the Alice Marshall School is fictional.
The book is about a girl named Lida, whose parents send her to Alice Marshall to deal with an issue that remains a mystery throughout most of the book. Lida is definitely troubled, but she is also very relatable, and I loved her snarky voice from the very beginning, when she tries to sneak a knife into the school by hiding it at the bottom of a hiking shoe.
At Alice Marshall, she encounters several other girls: friendly Jules, tough girl Boone, and gorgeous, glamorous Gia. Through it all, the girls learn wilderness survival skills and work through what they refer to derisively as their "Thing": whatever they did that got them enrolled at Alice Marshall.
The Girls of No Return is written in the first person from Lida's perspective, with the kind of detailed description that makes the world of Frank Church and Alice Marshall spring to wonderful, realistic life. I liked the book so much that I blurbed it:
"From the very first page, I knew that The Girls of No Return was going to be an amazing book. Lida's story is a gripping, heartbreaking journey to the center of herself, set in an Idaho wilderness that breathes truth and beauty. Erin Saldin's writing is sharp and assured, and I loved this tale about the complex relationships between girls."