Feral sounds like a fantastic creepy thriller when reading the synopsis. Except, it is not a thriller in the sense one imagines. It is a tragedy – a story about one broken girl moving to a new location only to discover another broken girl and her reactions to this discovery. It is about trying to recover from the unrecoverable. It is about small town secrets and big city dangers. What it is not is a horror story, a disappointing realization to anyone who reads this book hoping to be scared.
This is not to say that Feral is not spooky. In fact, the first third of the novel is deliciously creepy and mysterious. As Claire tries to make sense of her strange new surroundings, readers are trying to pull together the clues Claire has yet to discover. Claire is constantly on the brink of slipping into flight or fight mode, and her nervousness transforms itself into a sense of danger and fear that seeps into a reader’s consciousness as one progresses with the story.
However, this fear of the unknown soon dissolves into the surreal as Claire’s visions become a bit more extreme. What was once spooky becomes bizarre and almost absurd. This entire section is overdone, as Ms. Schindler attempts to make her point that Claire is struggling to adapt to her new town. In truth, these sections do have a greater purpose and the excessiveness of them makes sense eventually. Unfortunately, readers will muddle through the middle sections and only be able to put them together once the story completes its cycle.
If the first third is spooky and the middle third is ridiculous, the final third is sad. This is when readers will realize that Feral’s true story is not about the dead girl at all but rather about Claire. It is the moment where all of Claire’s discoveries finally make sense, and the full picture becomes clear. This picture is heartbreaking when one understands just how insidious mental illness can be. By this point in the novel, readers are so caught up in Claire’s mind that it is painful to watch her unravel and suffer to the extent she does yet it is necessary for her to obtain much-needed closure.
Feral is the type of story best viewed in hindsight, when one can understand exactly what Ms. Schindler was trying to accomplish with the very disjointed middle section. This means that readers must continue through the cartoonish nature of this section even though readers will want to quit the book in frustration or confusion. Unfortunately, the middle section is also the portion of the book that weakens the strong beginning and poignant ending. There are other weaknesses regarding character interactions, unanswered questions, and plausibility within the story, but those are minor when one considers the story as a whole. In all, Feral is a decent novel about trauma and mental illness that will get readers thinking about the nature of mental damage, even if it is not quite the horror story one anticipates.