“A gorgeous, different, and completely engrossing book. Burian’s writing is transporting -- and exactly what I needed right now.”
— Jessica Valenti, author of Sex Object: A Memoir
In rural West Virginia, Joanie and her foster siblings live on a farm tending a mysterious plant called the vine. The older girls are responsible for cultivating the vine, performing sacred rituals to make it grow. After Joanie’s arranged marriage goes horribly wrong, leaving her widowed and with a baby, she plots her escape with the help of her foster brother, Cello.
But before they can get away, her baby goes missing and Joanie, desperate to find him, turns to the vine, understanding it to be far more powerful than her siblings realize. She begins performing generations-old rituals to summon the vine’s power and goes on a perilous journey into the wild, pushing the boundaries of her strength and sanity to bring her son home.
Daughters of the Wild is an utterly absorbing debut that explores the female mind in captivity and the ways in which both nature and women fight domination. Like The Bell Jar set in rural Appalachia, Daughters of the Wild introduces a fierce new heroine and a striking new voice in fiction.
In Burian's darkly atmospheric adult debut (after the YA novel Welcome to the Slipstream), two foster siblings confront a supernatural power. Joanie, 19, returns to live with her abusive foster parents, Sil and Letta, and her five foster siblings in 1998 West Virginia after a brief marriage at 16 to Josiah, who died suddenly in mysterious circumstances. Joanie has given birth to a baby boy, never named in the text, and is desperate not to reveal his existence to Josiah's mother, a powerful woman known as Mother Joseph, out of fear she will claim him. Mother Joseph holds the foster family and much of the surrounding area in thrall with a mysterious and intoxicating vine, which Joanie and her foster sisters are duty-bound to tend, in arcane rituals bound up in menstrual cycles. When the baby disappears, Joanie's foster brother Cello vows to help find him, while pursuing his own dreams of escaping the family and going to college. Flashbacks to Joanie's brief but unsettling tenure at Mother Joseph's are interspersed with Joanie and Cello's narratives, which become intertwined. Physical and psychological abuse, addiction, isolation, and abandonment all play out against a backdrop of overgrowth and decay as Burian makes the characters' desperation and claustrophobia deeply palpable through vibrant prose. This is worth a look.