Erin Saldin’s debut novel, The Girls of No Return, caught my eye for several reasons: as an outdoor lover, I liked the idea of a book about a wilderness school for teen girls, and it sounded like it had some emotional depth to it. My first impressions were correct, and I read this compelling novel in just a few short days.
At the start of the novel, it’s not entirely clear why Lida’s father and stepmother are sending her away to the Alice Marshall School for Girls, deep in the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness Area, but it is obvious that she must have some serious emotional problems. In fact, Lida holds her problems and her emotions very tightly inside her, even when all of the other girls at the wilderness school are beginning to share their feelings during Circle Share time. As the girls hike, canoe, go to classes, and talk about their problems, Lida remains hesitant to let anyone in, so it is a big deal when the new, glamorous and mysterious girl, Gia, chooses Lida above all of the girls as her best friend.
All of the girls have their secrets, their Thing that landed them at Alice Marshall in the first place. With Gia, Lida finally begins to open up and share some of what she is feeling, but it makes her increasingly uncomfortable that Gia doesn’t seem to reciprocate. Meanwhile, there are other girls who would like to befriend Lida, but she doesn’t want to let them in; it is clear she has been badly hurt in the past. The tension builds to the exciting climax when it is time for the girls to go on their solo overnight backpacking trip.
I really enjoyed this book about teen girls facing their inner demons. The wilderness setting is unique and each of the girls has a distinctive personality and past. I found it engaging, suspenseful, and interesting, and I look forward to reading more from Erin Saldin.