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The Wild Ones

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“Utterly unique storytelling…a tale that refuses to flinch.” — Chloe Gong, New York Times bestselling author of These Violent Delights

From William C. Morris Finalist Nafiza Azad comes a thrilling, feminist fantasy about a group of teenage girls endowed with special powers who must band together to save the life of the boy whose magic saved them all.

We are the Wild Ones, and we will not be silenced.

We are girls who have tasted the worst this world can offer. Our story begins with Paheli, who was once betrayed by her mother, sold to a man in exchange for a favor. When Paheli escaped, she ran headlong into Taraana—a boy with stars in his eyes, a boy as battered as she was. He tossed Paheli a box of stars before disappearing. With the stars, Paheli gained access to the Between, a place of pure magic and mystery. Now, Paheli collects girls like us, and we use our magic to travel the world, helping to save other girls from our pain, our scars.

When Taraana reappears, he asks for our help. Dangerous magical forces are chasing him, and they will destroy him to get his powers. We will do everything to save him—if we can. For if Taraana is no longer safe and free, neither are the Wild Ones. And that is a fate that we refuse to accept. Ever again.

Reading Group Guide for

The Wild Ones

By Nafiza Azad​​

About the Book

In a world determined to hurt young girls and women, the Wild Ones travel through the Between, a magical realm that takes them around the globe. A group of girls bound by their shared pain and the desire to be whole once again, the Wild Ones are challenged when they find that the Between is in a state of disarray. Without the boy Taraana, the Keeper of the Between and the giver of their magic-bearing stars, the Wild Ones will cease to exist, which will prevent them from supporting girls like themselves. Together, they journey in and among the Between to help Taraana activate his magic, hoping he’ll bond with and stabilize the realm.

Discussion Questions

1. Discuss what it means to exist as a being of the Between, not only for the Wild Ones. Consider the significance and impact of being “naturally invisible,” and discuss how some creatures opt to conceal their true physical appearance.

2. Though they may try, the Wild Ones can’t save all girls. They also understand that all girls don’t want to be saved. Why then, do you believe the Wild Ones actively seek girls out? What good does this do for others or for their group?

3. “We do not hate all men. Just most of them. That old adage, you know? Guilty until proven innocent.” What are your thoughts on the Wild Ones’ stance toward men? Do you feel it’s justified? If not, what do you think their stance should be? Explain your answers.

4. Though the Wild Ones exist and narrate as a collective “we,” they notoriously assert their individualism in various aspects of their lives in the Between. Discuss the author’s choice to present the Wild Ones in this way and its impact on readers.

5. Paheli has a complex and often strained relationship with Taraana. On one hand, she feels gratitude for him because he is the giver of stars and the reason the Wild Ones can exist. On the other, Paheli struggles to give Taraana credit for her survival, especially as she takes up the role of protector against those looking to steal his tears. Discuss how Paheli copes with her feelings throughout the book. Do you agree or disagree with how she handles her feelings for Taraana? Explain your answers.

6. “In our world, feeling fear is being intelligent because fear keeps you sharp. Fear keeps you ready. . . . Fear keeps you alive.” Discuss the extent to which you agree or disagree with this statement.

7. Why do you think the author chose to use tears to represent the purest form of magic, the centralized power of the Wild Ones? What impact does this have on the story? Does it matter that the tears belong to a boy, specifically to Taraana?

8. Trust and mistrust are major themes throughout the book for various characters. Discuss instances of each, taking note of commonalities and differences in how the characters cope, respond, and evolve.

9. It’s important to remember that while the Wild Ones have reservations for those outside of their circle—particularly men—they still actively inquire about and seek out love. Reflect on the ways that Paheli, Valentina, and Sevda express or repress their desires for love. What does this say about them as individuals? As the Wild Ones?

10. Throughout the book, the Wild Ones continuously question traditional notions of womanhood and femininity, promoting an inclusive and self-defined version of girl and womanhood. In ten words or less, share how you define femininity.

11. The Wild Ones’ sole purpose is to provide safety, refuge, and healing to girls who have been hurt, abused, or left behind. Paheli, however, steps outside of this sphere of support when she agrees to help Taraana. At what point do you believe someone should leave the comforts and safety of what they know for something new they believe in? Why do you believe Paheli saw Taraana as a worthy cause?

12. Paheli has an uncanny love for mangoes. She even defines love as having an unlimited amount of the fruit. Why do you think mangoes are such a centralized part of Paheli’s love and joy?

13. Over time, girls have left the Wild Ones; however, Paheli has not and may never. What do you believe this says about her relationship to her trauma and her process of healing? Share what you think are her reasons for staying. Support your answer with textual evidence.

14. It could be argued that Baarish and his sons represent dangerous and enabled men, the very men who have historically hurt women in the Wild Ones. Knowing his history and family story, what do you think is the significance of having Baarish as the antagonist?

15. When your life is in immediate danger, would you make time for deep thought and consideration? Explain your answer. Discuss the impact of trauma on decision-making in The Wild Ones.

16. “Would giving specific names to our tragedies make you know us better? Get black paint then and mark us victims of rape, sexual, physical, and verbal abuse. Stalked. Sold. Made destitute. Abandoned. Hated. Silenced. Do these words make us more or less to you?” Before this moment in the book, there are only fleeting references to the abuse the Wild Ones have encountered. Why do you believe the author takes the time to spell it out like this? What does she mean when she says, “make us more or less”?

17. For Taraana to contain such magical power, he is a tender-hearted and fragile character. Discuss how you see Taraana’s nature influencing his role as Keeper of the Between and vice versa.

18. Discuss the significance of the Library of the Lost and the Silenced. Specifically, consider the significance of the library being created by a former Keeper of the Between.

19. Paheli struggles to come to terms with her feelings for Taraana, perhaps in response to her past experiences and trauma. Have you ever experienced emotional hurt or trauma that made being vulnerable with someone you cared for particularly difficult? Think about your answer and how you are working through it.

20. The Wild Ones use color to communicate their emotional states, uniqueness, individuality, and boldness to one another and to the world. This use of physical appearance could be interpreted as a reclamation of the “she was asking for it” trope that’s often used by abusers. Discuss the role of physical appearance in your life and the ways that you outwardly attempt to communicate or mask your internal state of being.

21. In the book, we find that the Keeper of the Rivers and Lakes is chosen by magic, naming Tabassum Naaz as the true heir to the role. Discuss the irony of this revelation and predict how the story might have differed if the heir was male.

22. Valentina has been in the Wild Ones the longest, next to Paheli. We can assume from the Book of Memories that she is a trans girl. The author is intentional in building out Valentina’s story and, particularly, her romantic life. Discuss how Valentina’s story impacted you, and how it helps normalize trans visibility and trans joy.

23. While a number of the Wild Ones’ abusers are men, this is not always the case. The author includes the discussion of female circumcision, which is encouraged by women and mothers in certain cultures. Discuss the impact of women violating girls’ and other women’s rights to their own bodies. Does it differ in any significant way from when harm is caused by men?

24. Joining the Wild Ones offers harmed women safety in community. However, if one decides to leave, memories of their time with the Wild Ones and their previous life are erased, giving them a blank slate to start anew. Understanding this, would you join the Wild Ones if given the chance? Explain your answer.

25. If Paheli did not wear Taraana’s star, do you think that their connection would be as intense or profound? We know their emotional connection was strengthened once Taraana gained access to magic, but what do you believe would happen should Paheli ever choose to remove the star?

Extension Activities

1. Imagine you are a curator at the Library of the Lost and the Silenced. Create a mini collection of three to five objects, each containing a story of the silenced. The stories need not be long or true, but they should draw from details of the object in question. Use this activity to closely consider those we often overlook, and the superficial nature of the assumptions we make about others.

2. Pretend it’s one year after the trial for the death of Baarish. Write a chapter in which you explore Paheli’s life and state of being post-trial. Some things you might consider: Does she remain a Wild One? Where do things stand between her and Taraana? Has she made peace with herself and her past?

3. Imagine you live in a world where magic is present and that you have the opportunity to be a Keeper of a particular segment of the world (i.e., Keeper of the Green or Keeper of the Rivers and Lakes). Write a letter in which you introduce yourself and your role to your constituents. Then address three existing issues and inequities under your jurisdiction and how you plan to use your magic and power to resolve them.

4. Food is emphasized in The Wild Ones as a central point of community, highlighting joy and beauty in global diversity. Choose one location featured in the book, and research the cuisine and dishes. Take particular note of the cultural histories of the dishes, as well as the contexts in which the dishes are often served. Finally, create a collage of the dishes you have researched and share what you have found. Discuss how you believe your chosen cuisine contributes to the emotional state of the book at that moment.

5. In the Between, burning doors denote a fallen city. Aleppo, Syria, is highlighted as one such city, given its ongoing war and military conflict. Write an essay in which you are in the Between and come across a burning door. What is the location of the door? What conflict is causing the city to burn? Describe what it is that you see, hear, and experience behind that door, and what you believe needs to be done to save the city.

Similar to The Wild Ones

Speak, Laurie Halse Anderson

The Girl from Everywhere, Heidi Heilig

We Set the Dark on Fire, Tehlor Kay Mejia

The Wise and the Wicked, Rebecca Podos

The Nowhere Girls, Amy Reed

Also by Nafiza Azad

The Candle and the Flame

Melanie Kirkwood Marshall holds a BA in Secondary English Education from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a M.Ed in Reading Education from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She has taught in many learning contexts from high school ELA teacher to Primary Literacy Interventionist. Currently, Melanie is completing her doctoral studies in Multicultural Children’s Literature at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

This guide has been provided by Simon & Schuster for classroom, library, and reading group use. It may be reproduced in its entirety or excerpted for these purposes. For more Simon & Schuster guides and classroom materials, please visit simonandschuster.net or simonandschuster.net/thebookpantry.
Photograph (c) Jasdeep Deol

Nafiza Azad is a self-identified island girl. She has hurricanes in her blood and dreams of a time she can exist solely on mangoes and pineapple. Born in Lautoka, Fiji, she currently resides in British Columbia, Canada, where she reads too many books, watches too many K-dramas, and writes stories about girls taking over the world. Nafiza is the author of The Candle and the Flame, which was nominated for the William C. Morris Award, and The Wild Ones. Learn more at NafizaAzad.com.

“This is a moving and powerful tale of sisterhood, and an adventure that crosses the world, where the sights, sounds, and even tastes of its cities are brought to magical life.”

—Karen W., VP, Editorial Director, on The Wild Ones

"This explicitly feminist contemporary YA fantasy is a haunting read. Switching between prose and poetry and between third person plural and Paheli’s perspective, the writing is as inventive as it is compelling."

– Buzzfeed

"A powerful feminist account of sisterhood, the longevity of pain, and the reclamation of power."

– Kirkus Reviews

"Part fairy-tale and part manifesto, this is a lyrical testament to sisterhood and the strength of survivors, filled with a diverse cast of complex characters and an intricate magic system."

– School Library Journal

“Utterly unique storytelling. The Wild Ones is just as magical as the girls and cities found within its pages, weaving together a tale that refuses to flinch.”

– Chloe Gong, New York Times bestselling author of These Violent Delights

"Prose as lush and as beautiful as the world of the In Between, it's easy to get lost in Azad's feminist fantasy The Wild Ones, where diamonds exist as magic and every doorway leads to the oldest cities in the world."

– Roselle Lim, author of Natalie Tan's Book of Luck and Fortune and Vanessa Yu's Magical Paris Tea Shop

"The Wild Ones is a stunning tale of resilience, tenderness, and fierce wildness, all rendered in Azad’s exquisite prose—a symphony of a novel." 

– Axie Oh, author of Rebel Seoul

"To read Nafiza Azad’s The Wild Ones is to journey into a literary spice shop, a space full of bright colours and sharp tastes, where bitterness leaves the delicate taste of hope on the tongue, and the acrid burn of reality is sweetened by love, friendship, and the resiliency the human spirit. Tragic and triumphant, lush and lyrical, The Wild Ones will linger with readers long after the last page has been read."

– Natasha Deen, award-winning author of In the Key of Nira Ghani

“The Wild Ones is a breathtakingly unique story of empowerment, perseverance, and the magic of sisterhood. Azad’s exquisite prose and captivating voice will enchant readers for years to come. An astonishing literary jewel not to be missed!”

– Julian Winters, award-winning author of Running With Lions

"Unapologetically brown and fiercely feminist, The Wild Ones is a fantasy with teeth....Readers will find their own hearts aching and enchanted with every single page turn. This is an incredible addition to the modern young adult canon, and once again marks Nafiza Azad as a storyteller to recognize and respect."

– Karuna Riazi, author of The Gauntlet

"Absolutely gorgeous from the inside out. With lyrical prose that left me in awe and characters that I adored from the very first page."

– Mason Deaver, author of The Ghosts We Keep and I Wish You All the Best

The Wild Ones will take you on a journey of staunch sisterhood that unapologetically tackles societies’ ugliest flaws with resilience and a fierce feminism. Azad’s lyrical prose as well as her enchanting and frequently mouth-watering imagery will stay with you long after you are done.”

– Sabina Khan, Author of Zara Hossain Is Here

"A stunning addition to the world's greatest feminist power novels, THE WILD ONES delivers a careful, heart-heavy tale about the myriad meanings of sisterhood. About the things that shape us into who we are. And it's done using prose so lyrical you could dance to it.

Nafiza Azad's characters are bold, empowered, and poetic in their own right, all of which is couched inside such beautiful vulnerability. Paheli's story is one for all but it's also a gift placed directly into the palms of readers of color.

THE WILD ONES swept me away."

– Cam Montgomery, author of By Any Means Necessary