Friday, January 7, 2011
In Which Trai Reviews 'Shiver'
The Book: Shiver (The Wolves of Mercy Falls, Book 1)
The Author: Maggie Stiefvater
How I Found It: The title was what caught my attention--just that one evocative word--after I heard Linger, the sequel, mentioned on a blog and looked it up to see what it was about.
The Review: As a child, Grace Brisbane was pulled from her tire swing in winter and attacked by the pack of wolves living in the woods close to her backyard. Unable to stop it, she laid still, but a yellow-eyed wolf came to her rescue.
For years afterwards, that wolf was Grace's constant, watching over her in winter and disappearing in summer. Unbeknownst to her, that wolf is also Sam Roth, a young werewolf who never dares to talk to her as a human. All of that changes during Grace's junior year of high school, when another student is attacked and killed by wolves, and the paranoia of the townsfolk leads to the wolves being hunted. Finally, Sam and Grace are thrown together, discovering for themselves the connection they can have as humans.
Werewolves like Sam change with the temperature--very cold temperatures force the change into a werewolf, while heat makes them change back. The problem is one thing that differs from werewolf to werewolf--each one of them has a limited amount of years where they can change back and forth. After that, they're wolves for good. Sam is certain that this is his last year, and, faced with that reality, he and Grace must fight the elements and find a cure, before the temperature drops and Sam is lost forever.
I went into this one with some trepidation. The title and the critical reviews I'd read conjured up this beautiful story about love lost and found, and I was dying for a good paranormal teen romance with characters I could actually like. Some reader reviews were more skeptical; a few of the more negative of them were critical of the writing (too flowery) and Sam and Grace's relationship (too close to bestiality). (That's the first and last time I'll probably type that one.) Eager to find out for myself, I trooped out to the bookstore in town and bought myself a copy.
I'm very pleased to say that I agree wholeheartedly with the critical reviews, and while I can see the problems some people had with the story, I'm just happy to see a healthy relationship in a genre where the relationships are almost always dysfunctional. Both Grace and Sam consider themselves to be "obsessed" with each other, but (a) they're teenagers, and (b) to me, their obsession never gave off the creepy vibe I got from Twilight or even slightly from The Vampire Diaries (since there, Elena's pretty much obsessed with claiming Stefan like he's property). I also never felt the bestiality argument was valid, either. The only reason Grace becomes obsessed with her wolf (Sam, unknowingly) is because he saved her life, and because--and this is my interpretation here, so it might not be valid--he was the one who was there to save her when no one else, most especially her parents, ever was. He protected her and kept her safe, and a major plot point hinges on the fact that her neglectful parents never did. Thus, Sam and Grace's obsession really came from each of them wanting to protect the other, and that never seemed unhealthy to me.
All that said, the writing, especially in Sam's sections, is really gorgeous sometimes. Stiefvater is a poet, from what I understand, and it shows. While Sam's lyrics could sometimes get cheesy, some of the sentences in his prose sections were really lyrical and pretty all on their own. Similarly, Grace's prose reflects her no-frills personality. The book shifts between their viewpoints, and I never had trouble telling who was who.
Grace and Sam themselves were very interesting, as an opposites attract type of relationship that works. Grace is the practical child of an artist mother, and Sam opens her up to poetry and beauty. Sam comes from a horrific childhood, and Grace shows him what it's like to be loved and not left. There were some really touching scenes between the two of them and I was completely invested in their bond by the end. They're just two kids trying to have the best possible time together in an impossible situation.
One thing I did feel slightly overwhelmed by while reading was the seeming mess of subplots. The problems with the pack, Grace's recently-bitten classmate Jack, Grace's friend Olivia investigating the wolves, Shelby trying to keep Grace away from Sam--most of these tied together in the end, but it was a little confusing in the meantime to keep shuffling back and forth between subplots. All of the side characters had a purpose, but some things that happened to them still felt a bit unnecessary by the book's end.
Overall, this was a great book that proved wrong my feelings that the post-Twilight YA fantasy that's being published today is usually crappy. Shiver had characters I cared about, a plot that drew me in, and writing that had some truly wonderful moments. Recommended to young adult readers who might not have heard of it (probably ages 14 and up), or to adult readers who don't mind YA and want a paranormal read.