2 reviews

The Wild Girl: A Novel
by Jim Fergus

Published: 2006-04-04
Paperback : 350 pages
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Recommended to book clubs by 2 of 2 members
Now in paperback, a stirring historical novel from the author of One Thousand White Women When Ned Giles is orphaned as a teenager, he heads West, hoping to leave his troubles behind. He joins the 1932 Great Apache Expedition on their search for a young boy, the son of a wealthy Mexican ...
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Now in paperback, a stirring historical novel from the author of One Thousand White Women When Ned Giles is orphaned as a teenager, he heads West, hoping to leave his troubles behind. He joins the 1932 Great Apache Expedition on their search for a young boy, the son of a wealthy Mexican landowner, who was kidnapped by wild Apaches. But the expedition's goal is complicated when they encounter a wild Apache girl in a Mexican jail cell, victim of a Mexican massacre of her tribe that has left her orphaned and unwilling to eat or speak. As he and the expedition make their way through the rugged Sierra Madre mountains, Ned's growing feelings for the troubled girl soon force him to choose allegiances and make a decision that will haunt him forever. In this novel based on historical fact, Jim Fergus takes readers on a journey of magnificent sweep and heartbreaking consequence peopled with unforgettable characters. With prose so vivid that the road dust practically rises off the page, The Wild Girl is an epic novel filled with drama, peril, and romance, told by a master. This is the novel your reading group will be talking about long past your discussion!

Editorial Review

Following the success of One Thousand White Women: The Journals of May Dodd, Jim Fergus has once again combined fact, fiction, history, and landscape in The Wild Girl: The Notebooks of Ned Giles, 1932 to bring to life a group of disparate people and an event made more real through his imaginings.

Ned Giles is a 17-year-old orphan whose father's advice in a suicide note was that he should "buy himself a good camera." Ned is working in the clubhouse at the Racket Club in Chicago when one of the members posts a notice: "The Great Apache Expedition: This expedition ... plans to go into the Sierra Madre Mountains on the boundary between Sonora and Chihuahua, Mexico, to attempt to recover the seven-year-old son of Fernando Huerta…the boy having been stolen by the Apache Indians ... when three years old..." Ned decides to leave Chicago and present himself in Douglas, Arizona, where the expedition is being organized, in the hope of becoming the expedition photographer. He drives his father's Studebaker Roadster, the last vestige of his old life, and eventually fetches up in Douglas. What he finds there is every boy's dream adventure and then some.

Fergus sprinkles stock characters throughout the narrative: the hard-drinking, overweight newspaper man, Big Wade Jackson, who really does not want to put up with the hardships of the expedition and is only too happy to send Ned; Tolley, the gay preppy from Princeton, having been sent by his father in the hope that it would "make a man out of him"; Margaret Hawkins, a cultural anthropologist and Ph.D. candidate from the University of Arizona, who looks at the whole escapade as a field trip; and a mean-spirited Chief of Police, Leslie Gatlin. Into this mix are thrown two Apache guides: Grandfather Joseph Valor, wisely resigned to the world as it is and Grandson Albert Valor, Apache hothead.

The main evet of the novel is, however, La Niña Bronca, the wild girl of the title. She is treed by the hounds of Billy Flowers, who heard the Voice and left home and hearth to become a hunter of predators. He takes her to Douglas, bound hand and foot, and she is thrown in a jail cell. She bites anyone who comes near her, but Ned is finally able to wash and feed her. And so begins the central relationship of the story. It is decided that the expedition will trade this girl for the Huerta boy. Turns out that isn't as easy as it sounds.

There is a wraparound story here that is utterly meaningless--author's notes, a prologue, an epilogue, the author's apology to the Apache people and all sorts of extraneous claptrap that is needless clutter. The basic narrative is a good one; stay with that. --Valerie Ryan


La Ni-a Bronca

In the beginning there was Ishtun-e-glesh, White-Painted-Woman. She had no mother or father. She was created by the power of Yusen. He sent her down to the world to live. Her home was a cave.

There was a time when White-Painted-Woman lived all alone. Longing for children, she slept with the Sun and not long after gave birth to Slayer of Monsters. Four days later, White-Painted-Woman became pregnant by water and gave birth to Child of the Water. As Slayer of Monsters and Child of the Water grew up, White-Painted-Woman instructed them on how to live. They left home and, following her advice, rid the earth of most of its evil. White-Painted-Woman never became old. When she reached an advanced age, she walked toward the east. After a while she saw herself coming toward herself. When she came together, there was only one, the young one. Then she was like a young girl all over again. ... view entire excerpt...

Discussion Questions

From the Publisher:

1. The title of the novel is The Wild Girl, and yet much of the novel is narrated from the perspective of Ned Giles. Which character did you respond to more? Why?

2. Do you consider Billy Flowers a moral person? What were his varying attitudes toward whites, Mexicans, Native Americans, and animals?

3. What do you think of the portrayals of women in the novel? Did you find the wild girl and Margaret to be believable? Did you think the author accurately imagined the way women in these situations might think and feel?

4. The novel takes place during the Depression, and Ned is very conscious of class. What are his attitudes toward the privileged, and how justified do you think his attitudes are?

5. Wealthy and homosexual, Tolley is at once privileged and an outcast in society. Which do you think affects his life in a greater way-his wealth or his sexuality? Did you find his character's flamboyance believable from a historical perspective?

6. Did anything surprise you about the history of the time period depicted by Jim Fergus?

7. Did anything surprise you about the depiction of the Apaches, as well as their relationship with the Mexicans? Did you feel that the author was making any judgments in his depiction of the Apaches, Mexicans, and whites?

8. How did you feel in reading the story about the murder of Charlie McComas's parents, and Charlie's kidnapping? Did it surprise you that a boy would embrace the people who murdered his parents?

9. Consider the choices made by Goso over the course of his life. Do you understand those choices? Did you find him sympathetic?

10. In much of 20th century film-making and writing, continuing to the present, Native American cultures have been represented in black and white terms. Do you think Jim Fergus's depictions of the wild Apaches, Mexicans, whites, and their interactions differ from other depictions?

11. Do you think that the Apaches and the whites and Mexicans could have coexisted peacefully, or was a violent outcome inevitable?

12. What did you think of the love story between Ned and the wild girl? Did his choice to go back to the white world surprise you? Do you think he should have made a different choice?

13. Consider the course of Ned's life after his experiences with the Apaches. Why do you think his life took the turn it did? Is it due to what happened to him and his relationship with the wild girl, or does it stem more from the losses he experienced prior to meeting the wild girl?

14. How does Ned use photography to express himself? What do you think this says about how artists deal with emotion and human suffering?

15. In what ways is The Wild Girl similar to the author's first novel, One Thousand White Women? In what ways is it different? Which did you like best, and why?

Notes From the Author to the Bookclub

No notes at this time.

Book Club Recommendations

Member Reviews

Overall rating:
by Amanda B. (see profile) 06/21/22

  "The Wild Girl"by Laurie R. (see profile) 09/27/13

  "The Bad Girl Book Club"by Jeriann B. (see profile) 01/30/11

Great Book for a group discussion and a interesting read

  "A study in relatonships between different societal classes, different races and between captor and captive,"by Lisa S. (see profile) 06/29/07

For me, this book started off slow, but evolved into a complex story of relationships. The story involved the interaction between the rich and those that serve, the White Man and the Apache, the Apaches... (read more)

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