Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater. Scholastic Press. 2009. ARC copy either from BEA or ALA.
The Plot: It's a story as old as time. Girl meets Wolf. Wolf meets Girl. Wolf turns into Boy. Girl and Boy fall in love. But Boy has to turn back into Wolf, eventually.
The Good: Shiver is a beautifully written, lyrical love story. As early as page 8, I was marking passages: "...the afternoon sunlight bleached all the books on the shelves to pale, gilded versions of themselves and warmed the paper and ink inside the covers so that the smell of unread words hung in the air."
This is a romance; and yes, it's supernatural, also -- werewolves -- but it's not about drawing out the reveal. The jacket copy tells us that Sam is also a werewolf; and as early as page twelve, Grace lets us know that she knows: "I didn't realize that the wolves in the wood were all werewolves until Jack Culpeper was killed."
The supernatural element is given full attention by Stiefvater. She has created an intriguing explanation, where wolves don't shift from the phases of the moon but rather from the temperature. The body reacts to cold, becoming a wolf; once it gets warmer, it becomes human. Grace and Sam's romance is a race against the autumn days growing cooler. To make it that much worse, eventually a werewolf stops turning back to human; and, wouldn't you know it, even though most werewolves have decades of change, Sam -- bitten as a child, now eighteen -- is facing his final change into wolf. Adding to the drama? Each chapter heading (which is told either by Sam or Grace) contains the temperature. We can worry along with Sam and Grace as it gets colder and colder.
The romance is hot -- despite the couple's battle against the cold. They are star-crossed, with the intensity and angst ramped up by Sam's wolfish state. From the moment Sam meets Grace in his human form, they are together, except when something like school interferes. He stays at her house; they share meals, hopes, dreams, a bed, and because this is an intense first love great love romance, all this just deepens how attracted to each other they are, how "cannot be apart" they are. They cynical part of me cannot help but wonder, can this intensity be maintained beyond the few short months that Shiver covers?
The werewolf backstory and hierarchy is disturbing. We see people turned into werewolves, sometimes willingly, other times, not so much. Sam is a werewolf because he was attacked and bitten as a child; Grace herself was attacked by werewolves as a child, but wasn't turned into one. That attack is when the two first really meet, but Sam is in his wolf form. Oddly, despite the traumatic attack, described at the beginning of the book in chilling detail, Grace doesn't grow up fearing wolves. She grows up almost obsessed with them.
The family dynamics have been pointed out in other reviews; Grace's parents are so involved with their jobs and with each other that they leave Grace on her own most of the time. Sam is basically living with Grace, in her room, sleeping in her bed, but her parents are the type who don't come into her room to check on her when they return home late so they never notice.
Oddly, Grace's biological family is portrayed as cold and self-involved, while Sam's adoptive wolf family is portrayed as loving and warm. Yet Sam's family is created by a series of violent acts, because a werewolf bite is needed to turn one into a werewolf. So that violence -- that almost tearing away or destroying of the original, human family -- is excused because the adoptive family cares for each other. Say what you will of Grace's parents, at least they haven't killed anyone.
There are no cliffhangers at the end of Shiver; we get an ending. Yet, we also have the promise of more as Stiefvater's site reveals that there will be a sequel, called Linger. I am hoping some of my questions (and speculation) will be addressed in that book.
Shiver would make an excellent book discussion book; I have tons of questions. The following may be viewed as spoilers, I guess, so stop reading now if that bothers you.
Was Grace deliberately attacked as a child?
How much about the wolves do her parents really know? And does that explain some of how she is (and isn't) treated by them?
How much of Grace's own personality was shaped by the werewolf attack?
Is Grace replicating her parents relationship in her own intense bonding with Sam?
And, finally, more an observation than a question --- raise your hand if you don't trust Beck.
Must watch, via Booklist: Interview with Maggie Stiefvater; the booktrailers for Shiver.
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© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy