Mar 29, 2012

Review: The Girls of No Return by Erin Saldin

Book cover for The Girls of No Return by Erin Saldin
Title: The Girls of No Return [Amazon|GoodReads]
Author: Erin Saldin
Standing: Stand alone novel.
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary
Published: February 1st, 2012 by Scholastic Inc.
Format: Hardcover; 348 pages.  
Source: Borrowed from my local library.
Challenge: Debut Author Challenge

I know I need to tell my story--our story--but I don’t know how.  Because the truth, see--it’s a messy thing.  Sometimes the only way to clean it up is to hurtle through each decision you made, trying to find the one that changed everything.  Maybe then you can start to fix it.
The Girls of No Return, Erin Saldin’s debut, was not what I expected.  I expected my heart to be pounding, my adrenaline to be rushing, and to be affected by it on a visceral level.  It didn’t happen that way.  Instead, Lida’s story drew me in slowly (very slowly...we’re talking you better have some perseverance and patience because the first half of this book is extremely subdued), chewed me up, and spit me back out again reflecting on women and our relationships to one another in ways that I had not expected.  

Our story begins at the end--with an epilogue.  Lida is determined to tell her story, reveal her Thing.  There are two mysteries, two events to uncover.  The Thing that brought her to Alice Marshall School, deep in the River of No Return Wilderness Area of Idaho, and the Thing that sent her home.  The school is Lida’s chance at redemption.  Alice Marshall is not quite reform school, maybe more reform school-lite, where troubled girls are given a chance to make peace with their past and form a brighter future.  Lida is determined to skate by, tucked away in her own solitude, but the surprising allure of the glamorous Gia, and the persistence of Lida’s bunk mates Boone and Jules work to draw her out.  Soon Lida finds herself pulled in various directions, unsure of her loyalties and feelings--she never realized she could cause so much damage to anyone besides herself.

Like The Girls of No Return in general, I really had to ease in to liking Lida.  She was soooooo convinced that everyone but her was beautiful, and she felt that her problems were bigger than theirs, like she was some unique butterfly who’d had such a harder go of things than every other girl that ended up at Alice Marshall.  And I really don’t think she ever moved beyond this point of view.  Luckily, I did, and so did the story.  I spent the last half of the book with my guts twisting in horror for this girl.  Lida is so vulnerable, so easily manipulated, and so unaware of her own feelings that it hurts to read.

Lida finds herself in the middle of a battle of wills between two girls, Boone and Gia.  Boone is rough around the edges and quick to bite.  She’s renowned at Alice Marshall for ‘welcoming’ the girls as they arrive, and is the only one among them without a safety net out in the real world.  Gia is beautiful, mysterious, and quick to rule to roost.  She wraps Lida around her fingers, understanding the way Lida feels about her even though Lida herself doesn’t really seem to get that her desires for Gia’s attention are more than platonic.  She does so much to draw Lida out of her shell, but when Lida tries to dig under Gia’s surface, Gia balks.  Gia accuses Lida of so many behaviors she herself is guilty of, claiming Lida knows everything about her, when in reality Lida knows nothing.

The Girls of No Return was a very powerful reflection of the relationships girls have with one another.  Initially, I kept thinking that these problems weren’t big enough, or exciting enough, and then I realized that they were more real.  These are the horrible things teen girls really do to one another.  I think the thing that saddened me the most was this--there was next to no male presence in this book, and still, a man almost entirely defines what goes down in the wilderness.  I hate this reality, that women can be so cruel, manipulative, and horrible to one another for such simple reasons.

In the end, I appreciate how The Girls of No Return affected me.  It was a slow, but powerful story that unfolded in a way that jerked at my emotional core.  There may have been no tears, but I certainly had some nice long thoughts about why I’ve never had many close female friends.

Likelihood that I'll be back for more: I would love to check out whatever Saldin writes next.  The Girls of No Return has been compared to Speak and Cut.  While I didn’t think it was as strong as Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak, I am interested in checking out Patricia McCormick's Cut.

Recommended for:  Girls (or women) who are going through a rough time, those who enjoy outdoorsy stories (though it wasn’t as outdoorsy as I was expecting), fans of Speak.

Real life repercussions of reading this book:  One of the sites in this book is a fire watch tower up in the wilderness.  In the Big Horns, where I grew up, we have our own fire watch tower that you can hike to for an amazing view. I thought it might be fun to share something from my own experience that would be similar to what Lida saw:

fire tower in the Big Horn Mountains taken by Heidi Frederick
Looking up at the fire tower pre-climb.
View of meadowlark lake from Big Horn fire tower taken by Heidi Frederick
View of Meadowlark lake from the fire tower.
Get a second opinion: 


  1. This is one my pile to read very soon, so I'm excited to hear it was good. and thanks for the heads up on it being a slower story.

    1. Yeah, I think this is one you need to be in the right mood for. It's slow, and heavy; I really liked it, but it's not a quick light read whatsoever.

  2. This sounds really interesting. I have been needing to expand my contemporary readings and this sounds like something I would like to read.

    1. Yeah, I've really been pushing myself to read contemporary this year. I've always been more of everything but contemp girl. I've found some really great ones though, and this one kept me thinking about it long after I'd finished.

  3. Great review I haven't heard much about this one. I usually am not a fan of slow moving stories though. I love high adrenaline rushes haha. I sometimes need a break though it does sound interesting.

    1. Thanks, Giselle. Yeah, I was surprised to see this morning that I was only the 4th or 5th person to review this on Amazon. Not a ton of GoodReads reviews up yet either. For some reason, this book really attracted me before I came out and I had assumed it was bigger. Yeah, the lack of adrenaline was disappointing, there are some GREAT adrenaline moments, but it's not a muscle-tense-fest like I expected.

  4. I've seen this one pop up in people's IMMs, BUT I wasn't quite sure what to think about it. I'm glad to see your review. It actually sounds pretty interesting and like something I might enjoy. I'll have to put it on my TBR.

    1. Good, I'm interested to hear what some more people think! It's hard to say, like, I can't gush because I didn't love it, and it's not compelling in that certain way, but I did really like it and found it to be a really powerful read.


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