Image of the book Wild Girls by Rory Power

Rory Power Is the Master of Young Adult Sapphic Horror

The author is making a name for herself with popular horror novels that feature underrepresented sapphic characters.
October 23, 2020
8 mins read

While she’s only published two novels, Rory Power has already made a name for herself in the young adult horror genre. Power’s debut novel, “Wilder Girls,” and her recently released novel, “Burn Our Bodies Down,” both contain haunting and terrifying plots. However, the aspect of Power’s writing that stands out the most is her ability to include fantastic representations of young sapphic women.

The term sapphic refers to any woman who is attracted to other women. It’s an umbrella term, meant to include lesbians, bisexuals and other queer women who might not feel comfortable using labels. Both of the main characters in Power’s novels are sapphic.

“Wilder Girls,” released in July 2019, follows a group of students who attend the Raxter School for Girls, which is located on an island off the coast of Maine. Eighteen months before the start of the novel, a disease called the Tox began infecting students, killing teachers and warping the wild landscape surrounding the school. Ever since the Tox began, no student has been allowed to leave and no one has been permitted to enter the island.

When infected with the Tox, students develop inhuman features. Some grow gills, scales and other animalistic features. Mildly gruesome body horror creates an intriguing sickly atmosphere throughout the novel. However, Power balances out the horrific moments in the book with a romance.

There are multiple points of view throughout “Wilder Girls,” but the majority of the novel focuses on Hetty. Readers follow the story mainly through her lens, and this is how they experience the relationship. Hetty falls for one of the other girls at the school, and a relationship between the students develops.

It’s not a perfect romance by any means. It’s messy, uncomfortable and not fully fleshed out at times. However, that fits with the tone of the story. Two girls developing a romantic connection in the middle of a horrific situation is never going to be picture-perfect. Instead, readers get to experience a raw and gritty relationship grow between the women as they fight for survival on the island.

Power also mentions other sapphic relationships in “Wilder Girls.” Since the students are quarantined on an island together, it makes sense that some would decide to turn to each other in a romantic context for comfort. Same-sex relationships in the novel are always fully accepted by the other characters, and no one has to deal with homophobia.

In Power’s other novel, “Burn Our Bodies Down,” there is no romantic relationship. However, the main character, Margot, explicitly states that she is attracted to women. In one scene, she thinks, “I never got good at recognizing attraction in other girls — it took me long enough to recognize it in myself, and even longer to say ‘lesbian’ without blushing.”

“Burn Our Bodies Down” follows the story of Margot Nielsen, who has a tense relationship with her mom. The two live alone, and Margot has never met her other family members. One day, after the two get into a fight, Margot discovers a photograph. The image leads her to where her grandmother lives, so Margot runs away to meet her.

When Margot arrives in the town of Phalene, where her grandmother lives, chaos erupts. The Nielsen farm catches fire, and when Margot goes to check it out, she sees a girl stuck in the burning cornfields. Margot doesn’t reach her in time, and the girl dies when the firefighters arrive. The main mystery? The girl looks like a mirror-image of Margot, but Margot has never seen her before.

The rest of the novel is a convoluted web of family secrets and dangerous lies. As Margot begins to unravel the knots with the help of her friend Tess, things just seem to get more and more confusing. None of the puzzle pieces fit together until the horrifying and surprising climax when the truth is finally revealed.

Margot’s sexuality doesn’t have a large impact on the story’s plot. Her friendship with Tess never grows into anything more than a friendship, but that doesn’t mean that Margot’s sexuality isn’t an important part of the novel. It shapes the way she views and talks about other women, and it’s a valuable part of who she is.

It was refreshing to read a novel where the sapphic main character was open about being attracted to women without falling in love by the end of the story. It reflects and represents the women who know they like other women but aren’t in a relationship at the moment.

So many books focus on sapphic relationships without giving any attention to what it means to live as a sapphic woman. Power does Margot justice by not forcing her character into a relationship. She’s on a journey of self-discovery, trying to unravel the mystery of her family. The urgency of the mystery could have been tainted by a rushed romantic relationship.

The representation of sapphic women in all genres is vital, and there needs to be more of it. From “We Are Okay” by Nina LaCour to “Her Royal Highness” by Rachel Hawkins, there are many great sapphic stories in the young adult realm. However, sapphic representation is largely present in contemporary fiction and romance novels.

While these genres contain fantastic works of fiction, not everyone enjoys reading those genres. All readers have vastly different tastes, which is why representation across all genres is so important. Every reader deserves the chance to find characters they can relate to. They shouldn’t have to be restricted to reading genres they aren’t a fan of so they can see themselves reflected on the page.

Power provides great stories with sapphic representation to young readers who enjoy horror. Hopefully, the upcoming decade will see an influx of sapphic representation across all genres, whether it be fantasy, horror, science fiction or historical fiction. For now, if any readers are looking for a great sapphic horror novel, Power is the author to check out.

Emma Watts, University of Arizona

Writer Profile

Emma Watts

University of Arizona
English and Political Science

My name is Emma Watts and I go to school at the University of Arizona. My majors are political science and English, so I spend about 80% of my time writing and reading.

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