She applied the Page 69 Test to her debut novel, Wild Girls, and reported the following:
Serendipitously, page 69 of Wild Girls touches on a major theme—the different choices that the main character can make for her life, and the potential consequences of each. At the beginning, we hear a description of Kate’s friend Caroline, an anomalous free spirit at their Southern boarding school:Read more about Wild Girls, and visit Mary Stewart Atwell's Facebook page and Twitter perch.She wore rainbow-striped kneesocks and John Lennon glasses, and if anyone made fun of the way she looked, the sarcasm passed right over her without making an impression. Her father lived in Rome, and traveling with him had given her a faith in her ability to move in the world that I envied. She was the one who had encouraged me to apply to my dream colleges in Minnesota, Maine, and Vermont when my mom said that maybe I should look for a backup—something less expensive, and closer to home.Kate and Caroline are separated not only by socioeconomics but also by the confidence that social status brings. As Kate says, Caroline believes in her right to move easily in the world; Kate, brought up in a town without opportunity, suspects that mobility might not be an option for her. Local teenagers have the potential to turn into wild girls, nightmare creatures who wreak havoc on the town and sometimes even murder, and Kate fears becoming one of them.
One might think that the worst thing about being a wild girl would be murdering people, but Kate doesn’t quite see it that way. When she thinks about the wild girls, she often skips past their crimes to focus on their later lives, living in disgrace in the community they terrorized. In the passage below, she reflects on her sister Maggie’s atypical experience as a wild girl and her return to their hometown:Maybe the fact that my sister had been an unusual kind of wild girl should have been reassuring to me. Maggie had proven that it was possible to come out on the other side without any major baggage. In this she was not just different from Crystal Lemons, dead in the ruins of Bloodwort Farm, but different from the girls who went to prison, who always came back changed, degraded. I had seen Sharon Englehard, drunk at ten a.m., talking to herself at a bus stop, and Angie Davenport was rumored to work as a prostitute at the travel plazas on Route 19. Given the track records of the other ex-wild girls, Maggie’s choice to settle for a deadneck life with Kayak Boy didn’t seem so bad. Still, I couldn’t help noticing that the one thing the wild girls had in common was that they were all stuck in Swan River.Though Kate sympathizes to a certain extent with the rage that fuels the wild girls’ frenzy, she recognizes that the end result of that frenzy is more shame, more stagnation. If she’s going to get out of Swan River, she has to find a way to channel her own anger and resentment in a positive direction.