In August 2021, a feminist fantasy unapologetically took readers on a journey of sisterhood, anger, and resilience. The Wild Ones is a heart-heavy, lyrical, and magical tale that doesn’t shy away from acknowledging and tackling societal flaws, institutionalised wrongs, and trauma. With characters who navigate the myriad meanings of empowerment and vulnerability, the author —whose debut novel, The Candle and the Flame, was nominated for the William C. Morris Award— switches between prose and poetry to narrate a tale that reclaims power.
But at the core of it, The Wild Ones is about pain. It brings together a group of girls who are all survivors of some of the worst things that can happen to girls. And it gives them —only them— a magical corridor to travel the world through: the Between. So it’s a pleasure to have Nafiza Azad, the Indo-Fijian Canadian Muslim author of this contemporary YA fantasy, elaborate more on this magical safe space and how or why she created it. To view more such posts by Muslim authors, make sure to check out this collaboration, Muslim Musings, spanning over Ramadan 2022. This blog post may contain affiliate links. To know more about them, please read my disclaimer.
Nafiza Azad, the author of The Wild Ones, on creating the Between— a world of magic — as a space to heal.
If you have undergone trauma, you will know that, afterwards, your life will be changed in ways you never wished it to be. The mundane will become monstrous. The only thing you will notice about the sun is the shadows it creates. The most comfort you will find is when curled up in a corner, somewhere dark, so that no one notices you because when people notice you, you hurt.
How do you heal from something that has damaged the deepest part of you when your entire world has become threatening?
Honestly, I don’t know. If you do, let me know because I’ll probably still be wondering.
The Wild Ones wasn’t an easy book to write. The novel deals with heavy topics that people never want to discuss or read about. Because if you don’t talk about it, read about it, think about it, you can pretend it doesn’t exist.
Women of colour are not society’s priority and the pain women of colour face? Pfft. The injustices done to them? Consider how long it took the authorities to take seriously and investigate the missing First Nations women in Vancouver, Canada. Think about the mistreatment trans women (especially trans women of colour) face daily.
But anyway, we’re not here today to talk about the injustices women and girls of colour face. I’m here to discuss the Between, a magical pathway my band of girls traverse in The Wild Ones. Think of it as a labyrinthine corridor that runs throughout the world, visible only to magical creatures. The Between contains doors that lead to different cities that exist in the human world, and is the primary way for magical creatures to travel.
The Wild Ones by Nafiza Azad
Meet the Wild Ones: girls who have been hurt, abandoned, and betrayed all their lives. It all began with Paheli, who was once betrayed by her mother and sold to a man in exchange for a favor. When Paheli escapes, she runs headlong into a boy with stars in his eyes. This boy, as battered as she is, tosses Paheli a box of stars before disappearing.
With the stars, Paheli gains access to the Between, a place of pure magic and mystery. Now, Paheli collects girls like herself and these Wild Ones use their magic to travel the world, helping the hopeless and saving others from the fates they suffered.
Then Paheli and the Wild Ones learn that the boy who gave them the stars, Taraana, is in danger. He’s on the run from powerful forces within the world of magic. But if Taraana is no longer safe and free, neither are the Wild Ones. And that…is a fate the Wild Ones refuse to accept. Ever again.
The Wild Ones are creatures of the Between. Each Wild One wears a gold star, made of magic, the same magic the Between is made of, on the palm of her hand. This allows her access to the Between. When the Wild One lays the palm with the star on a wall uninterrupted by windows and doors, a door to the Between appears.
Each Wild One is a survivor of trauma. The shape of the trauma may be different, but the taste of tears on their tongue is the same. The Wild Ones are in sore need of healing, a healing they aren’t able to achieve in the real world due to their circumstances. The Between is a liminal space that aids in their gradual healing.
When control has been wrested from you and you have been taught, in intimate detail, the meaning of helplessness, the first step to healing is regaining the feeling of security. The security that comes from the knowledge that no one is going to be able to hurt you if you put down your guard. That you won’t be violated once again if you close your eyes. The Between gives the girls this security because within its walls, the girls are invulnerable.
No one can use magic on them in the Between and any attempts to physically force them will fail because the girls no longer have tender morsels available for the taking. The screams of the wild ones, the very expression of their helplessness in the past, are now weapons they use to defend themselves. When the Wild Ones scream, the world trembles.
Giving the girls the power of a weapon is helping them take another step on their road to healing. They are regaining the control that was stolen from them. They are not being kept safe; they are actively keeping themselves safe. They have agency and the ability to make their own decisions. Their screams are sharp blades they can wield against anyone who threatens their hard-won sense of self and safety.
The Wild Ones usually never travel the Between alone; they are present as a collective. Their many sorrows are shared and thus made endurable. Within the Between and without it, they are not alone in their pain. We all know the comfort that comes from the knowledge that your journey to healing is not a solitary one.
Finally, the Between is always in a state of movement, the girls travel from one city to another, away from their pain toward something else. Travelling the Between is growing as a person, as a woman, growing toward something more, toward something that is more than a sum of their experiences. The Wild Ones, as I said before, deals with heavy topics. The novel is set in the real world with magical elements buoying it, making it an urban fantasy.
But let me be real for a moment.
I say healing but the truth, as I have experienced it, is that sometimes you never completely heal. You never return to how you once were. You relearn to function as a person. You learn to smile again. Your face learns expressions again and your mouth learns the shape of a smile again. But something of the darkness remains within you. Even on the sunniest days, that darkness will remain.
Unlike the Wild Ones, we, unfortunately, do not have a Between we can run into to be impervious to the demands the world will make on us without regard for our ability to handle them. So, we learn to pretend. We put on masks that keep us distanced and thus safe. Because we may be scared and scarred by many things and every day may be a fight, but we don’t give up. We, I, refuse to. Because though I don’t have a Between like the wild ones, I, too, am wild. As are you.
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. Her debut YA fantasy was the Morris Award–nominated The Candle and the Flame. The Wild Ones is her second novel. She can be found at nafizaazad.com or @nafizaa on Twitter and @nafizaaz on Instagram.
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Everything stated in this post is independent of any compensation, and the guest writer’s comments and thoughts are solely their opinion; the formatting was done by the blogger but no changes were made in text.