Monday, August 8, 2011

More Adventures in YA: A Review of Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater

I read Shiver by Maggie Steivater several months ago, as part of my reintroduction to what passes for "young adult" books these days. I had gone on hiatus from them when I was actually a teenager, because I'm not big on reading about characters in similar life phases and situations as myself.

Anyway, this book came pretty highly recommended. However, there was also a general consensus among acquaintances who had already read this book that it would never have gotten published were it not for the inexplicable success of Twilight. I'm going to agree to that statement with an amendment: I don't think this book would have been published and marketed as YA were it not for the success of Twilight. Yes, I'm going to complain about labels here again, because I felt that this book just didn't need the YA label. The exact same story could have been told (and probably told better) with characters in their early to mid twenties instead of late teens. Well, on to the review:

The premise is simple: As a young girl Grace is attacked by wolves and would likely have been killed, but one wolf saved her. That same wolf, Sam, continues to visit her in here backyard every winter. After years pass, Sam and Grace at last encounter each other when Sam is human. Grace is delighted to learn that Sam and her wolf friend are one and the same, and the two instantly begin to develop romantic feelings. Sam explains that his change into a wolf is triggered by cold, which is why he is a wolf during the winter. More importantly, as the years pass changing into a human becomes more and more difficult until one year, you stop changing and remain a wolf forever. Sam is fairly certain that this year is his last, and that when he changes it will mean leaving Grace forever.

Grace's parents are so neglectful they make the Rugrats' parents look downright attentive. She is utterly self-sufficient. They show little interest in her, which is what makes it possible for her to spend so much time with Sam. Not far into the story she has him sleeping in her bed on a nightly basis. This annoyed me because I found myself thinking, this could easily be an adult heroine--perhaps a college student. Grace is devoid of most of the teenage issues I recall from being seventeen--which would include concerned parents, learning to balance responsibilities, still trying to shed the last bits of immaturity and awkwardness. The only reason to write her as seventeen was so the book could be sold to the seventeen and under crowd.

Sam is pretty much on his own as well, although he is eighteen at least. It struck me that he seems the one to be in the more atypical teenage stage of questioning who he is and what his place in the world should be. He even has a moment of harsh reality when he realizes his parental figure isn't as noble as he'd once assumed.

Grace is characterized as practical to a fault. Sam, on the other hand, has an artistic and emotional personality. The contrast was very well written. As their relationship builds, you see them both grow appreciate the other side of the spectrum and develop because of it. The romance was the part of the book I most enjoyed, and the reason I am able to give it three 1/2 stars instead of two.

Pretty sure these dogs just want to be human. Good effort, guys.
The mythology sucks. I'm sorry, there are some ok ideas, but in the end it's just bad. The central issue is that cold makes werewolves change into wolf form, and eventually they won't be able to come back. And no, moving to the tropics apparently won't work (some of the wolves tried it. kind of). This makes no sense, other then the fact that the author needed to throw up a road block for her couple. There is no reason why a very determined werewolf couldn't hole up in a non-air conditioned building in Florida for six months out of the year and avoid refrigerators. Or wear ten layers during winter. Something. And then they come up with a cure for werewolfism which basically involves inducing a fever, but the explanation as to why that might work is pretty weak. I'm willing to suspend disbelief, but I need some kind of reasonable logic other then cold=wolf hot=human. But sadly the author could not be bothered.

Anyway, in the end you get a melancholy story with a reasonably happy ending. I liked Sam and Grace, and I found their love believable. The fact that I didn't find the world building enjoyable may means that I won't read anymore of Miss Stievater's books, but I'd recommend Shiver. 3.5 stars.

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