This came second in the poll after City of Bones (thanks for reading that review. It was interesting to hear from people who also liked the book. Feel free to disagree with me and tear my argument apart by the way!) and with the hype this book is getting on top of that gorgeous cover I couldn't help but be interested. Oh my misspent glee.
Cover Impressions – Both the US and UK covers are gorgeous and a step away from the typical covers in the paranormal YA sections, although the UK one does have a different colour scheme that fits in better with the dark, mysterious covers of the genre. Stiefvater, previously the author of a fairy series, turned to werewolves where she made a name for herself, right in the middle of the paranormal craze, debuting at number 9 on the New York Times bestseller list with the sequel “Linger” debuting at the top just a couple of weeks ago. I saw a few people on GoodReads calling this ‘Twilight for Team Jacob fans’ then there was this review so of course I had to read it.
The narrative shifts between the heroes of the story, Grace and Sam. The former opens up the story describing being attacked by wolves. No messing about then, although the fact that Grace states how she could scream for help or fight back but doesn’t isn’t filling me with a lot of hope for a strong, independent heroine, even though this is a flashback. One wolf in particular, with golden eyes (cough), grabs her attention before the narrative switches to his extremely angsty point of view. I will admit some of the descriptive scenes are quite pretty but they just don’t fit in with the narratives of two teenagers. Is there something about being a mythological creature that automatically turns you into a wannabe poet laureate? So the pair, girl and wolf, share some amazing, unspoken connection and they see each other for brief moments over the course of several years as Grace grows into a single minded and incredibly selfish teenage girl (familiar much? See Sparkle Projects number 1 to 5) who cares about nothing but her wolf. Just a reminder that this is before Grace finds out that the wolf is a werewolf; she just thinks of him as ‘her wolf’ which gives this thing a distinct aroma of bestiality justification. And so early on too.
The narrative moves to the modern day with Sam, in human form, mooning over Grace in the bookshop he works in. We get heart pounding, chest aching and general yearning for a girl who he’s been sort of obsessed with for years but didn’t know her name until he overheard it that day. Back to Grace and it’s onto discussion of Jack Culpepper, a guy killed by a wolf attack which has understandably left the town on edge. Grace’s scatterbrained passive mother worries about the possibility of more wolf attacks but Grace tries to justify Jack’s death by saying it could have been an accident and the wolves are innocent, reasoning in her narration that ‘her wolf’ couldn’t possibly do something like that. Now I know the paranormal genre technically comes under fantasy but even within the very wide boundaries of that genre and the suspense of disbelief over reading a book about werewolves, it’s still a little hard to swallow that a victim of a childhood wolf attack would not only be so accepting of them but would form a freaky unspoken connection with them. If I’d been attacked by wolves as a kid, the news of further attacks would have me packing my bags and running off to an urban area. Grace gets on with cooking dinner for her scatterbrained mother while she talks on the phone to her friend Rachel, but her mind still wanders to the topic of her wolf, who she goes to talk to outside, asking if he killed Jack. The wolf doesn’t talk back which is a shame because maybe if he did we’d get something entertaining out of this. But there’s a real, less wimpy wolf on the scene, named the she-wolf by Grace who is, unsurprisingly, the vicious jealous growling type. There’s a growl off and then it’s back to mutual yearning.
Back at school, Grace is once again mentally preoccupied with thoughts of her wolf (every time she references him as ‘her wolf’ I can’t help but cringe, it’s just a little too weird), even as a policeman, Officer William Koenig, and the class discuss the recent death. She continues to obsess over fur boy even while her friend Olivia shows her photographs she has taken. Of course, she obsessed over the one photo of her wolf and rolls her eyes at her friend’s talk of boys which she called obsessive. Hi there pot, meet this big black kettle! Everything seems to be a huge inconvenience to Grace, like Olivia wanting to talk about something other than wolves, or it’s just not good enough, like Olivia’s kind but conventionally attractive brother who talks to her. I don’t like this girl and I’m only 9 short chapters in. Later that night Grace hears cries for help that suspiciously sound like the dead guy Jack’s, prompting her to go out in the middle of the night in her pyjamas to investigate in the hope that she’ll catch another glimpse of her wolf. Like a neon sign outside a casino, I keep seeing the words “Too Stupid To Live” flashing on and off whenever the narration is coming from Grace. She spots a group of wolves and automatically decides that she recognises Jack’s eyes in one of the wolves. She wasn’t close to Jack before his ‘death’, she even talked about what a jerk he was, yet she remembers his eyes and can instantly spot them in an animal’s likeness. Olivia can’t help but find this ridiculous when Grace tells her, as would all normal people, but Grace is the one with the audacity to be offended by Olivia’s accusations that she’s obsessed because Olivia owes her after years of listening to her ramble on about her family and other mindless matters. Wow, Grace is a bitch. I don’t use that term lightly either but this girl is genuinely a complete bitch. This is the girl that has the cheek to grab the wrist of Isabel, the sister of Jack, and tell her that she shouldn’t blame the wolves for killing her brother. Isabel informs her that the wolves are going to be killed and Grace freaks out and runs back home, telling Officer Koenig that the gunshots need to stop because her friend is in the woods taking photographs. Her friend’s such an inconvenience that Grace can only trust her to be an accessory to her selfish lies.
Koenig escorts Grace back to her home and then she finally meets her wolf in his wounded human form. Naked human form of course, which I have no problem with because it’s a whole lot less ridiculous than the rolled up jeans the Twilight werewolves/shape-shifters/paedophiles keep tied to their legs. Grace calls for an ambulance as Sam begs her not to let him change again. There’s a brief chapter of Sam narration with this bizarre description:
“I was not a wolf, but I wasn’t Sam yet, either. I was a leaking womb bulging with the promise of conscious thoughts...”
Leaky womb, Stiefvater? That’s really the angle you want to go for with this analogy? I’m all for creative metaphors but that’s not interesting, creative or romantic in any way. Why would a male teenage wolf be thinking about leaky wombs? Even the stereotypical one-track-mind teenage boys don’t want to think about that time of the month for the object of their desires, and I’m pretty sure they don’t think about leaky wombs on a regular basis. Leaky makes it sound broken or injured too which adds a whole new level of disgusting.
Moving onto pastures cleaner, Sam wakes up in hospital where Grace is the doting minder, dedicating herself to waiting until he wakes up from his heavily sedated sleep. He awakes and she manages to get him out of the hospital (in borrowed scrubs) and takes him home. They sleep together in the same bed but no action because that would be weird! Thank the literary lord for passive, uncaring parental figures who are conveniently out of the picture so they won’t notice this happening. Did I mention that Sam writes songs? I hope he doesn’t write about leaking organs in his love songs. I should give that a try... # My love is like a maxi-pad / that’s newly soaked in sorrow / your cramps of love don’t make me sad / we’ll get a change tomorrow. # I think I have a new future career. Sam rearranges his thoughts into song quite a lot and I can’t decide whether it’s hilarious or embarrassing or both. Luckily he doesn’t do this when he and Grace kiss (my guess is it would have gone # score / score / scooooooore #). I have stated before that I have next to no dating and relationship experience but I’m positive that mooning over a nameless animal for years doesn’t count as reason enough to start making out with the guy the moment he’s in fuck-friendly form.
Sam explains to Grace why he becomes a wolf – as the temperature drops, he turns into his furry form, and the longer you’re a wolf, the warmer it needs to be for you to turn back into a human. This explanation offers up a few questions, the main one being – why the fuck doesn’t he just move somewhere warmer? Even if this is explained away later on, it’s a really weak basis for lycanthropy and one that doesn’t exactly stand up to scrutiny. Other matters are discussed – Sam’s parents serving life sentences for trying to cure the wolf out of him with murder (and to think Grace’s parents are just negligent, what an amateur), his driver’s license and Grace’s dad accidentally leaving her to die in a hot car. Back at school the next day, Rachel tells Grace about a wolf that came out around the school the previously day, most likely Jack. Grace and Sam continue a state of semi-marital bliss together in the same bed while Grace’s parents have disappeared from the face of the planet with occasional stories from Sam concerning his past and life with his fellow wolves. Sam wonders why Grace isn’t a wolf since she was bitten as a child and reveals to her that he “waited for you to change, every night, so I could bring you back and keep you from getting hurt” so he’s now entered the big boy YA leagues with stalking! So we’ve had the explanation than the cold makes Sam wolf out so what would the sensible thing to do be? Stay inside and keep warm, right? So what do Grace and Sam actually do? They go into the middle of the fucking woods where Sam starts to wolf out so they had to rush back into the house where Sam’s pack leader Beck lives during his human times and rush to keep warm. There’s a quick discussion about sex with Sam being the perfect gentleman and wanting to wait until Grace is legal although she’s hot and raring to go. You can all hear that sparkly bell ringing too, right? Grace sneaks Sam back into her house, this time with parental figures actually on the scene, and it’s back to no touchy sleeping together.
Back at school (because that place does still exist), Grace gets filled in on more wolf action by Rachel (remember her friends? They’re still here too) after one ended up clawing at Olivia’s house porch. Isabel corners Grace and confronts her about the wolves, telling her she saw Jack alive and he told her Grace was in on the secret, which she denies. None of this moulds together to form anything resembling a plot. Who needs a plot when you have Sam teaching Grace German poetry? Eventually Sam finds Beck in human form but the happy union is quickly spoiled when Beck reveals a car full of wounded teenagers he’s turned into wolves to keep the pack going. We’re almost exactly halfway through and finally, there’s an antagonist that isn’t the weather. But the narrative just suddenly cuts back to Sam lying in bed with Grace. All remnants of a plot are quickly forgotten the next morning when Sam decides to take Grace out on a real non furry obsession date, but when they come back they find the porch covered in wolf pee, a sign from the wolf Shelby who happens to be obsessed with Sam, basically a sort of wish fulfilment character by this point. There’s no difference between his narration and Grace’s, so doesn’t read like a male character. He’s more like a Hallmark card with paws. Showing an iota of responsibility, Sam asks Grace if she worries about her home life and lack of parental guidance, and in a moment that surprised me, Grace actually admits that she does care. Not that she’s shown any previous signs of this throughout the book but then again that would require some sort of effort on Ms Stiefvater’s part and she’s been too busy describing trees and snuggling and the most terrible song lyrics this side of a Lady Gaga B-side. Grace says she wants her family to be around more and to care about her which reminds me of how much I hate the passive parent trope in this genre because it reeks of the easy way out. Why attempt to add realism into your story when that takes a modicum of effort and would bring down the amount of bed sharing? Right on cue, Grace’s parents arrive and she introduces Sam as her boyfriend and of course her parents don’t seem to care, but Grace doesn’t really care either because now she can moon with Sam about being together forever. That emotional U-turn gave me whiplash.
Another side note here. I am all for what Libba Bray calls ‘reading democracy’ and I completely understand that just because a teenager is reading something weird or disturbing that doesn’t mean they’re going to turn into psychotic killers or sexual perverts (when I was 14 my favourite books were the Rebus novels and I didn’t turn into an alcoholic). But at what point does the writer need to accept some level of personal responsibility for the messages they put in their books, especially when they’re aimed at a teenage audience? I love stories about fucked up people in love but only when it’s acknowledged that it’s fucked up. The relationship in this book, along with Twilight and several other books I’ve read this summer, is obsessive, it eats up the lives of these 2 teenagers and they are completely defined by this relationship. It’s one of the reasons the relationship is so boring as well as worrying because the characters are so insipid it actually hurts. I’m hoping the author apologises to Minnesotans in the same way Meyer should apologise for the people on Washington. It doesn’t help that the only thing Grace does outside of obsess over Sam is cook. It’s the 21st century, women have been fighting for generations to improve rights for all women, and yet we still get media representations like this. We’ve got to do better people.
And now back to your regularly scheduled programming. Same agrees to model for Grace’s mum while she paints as long as he can play the guitar and sing a song he wrote for Grace while he does it. The song gives Grace’s mum goose bumps but it just gave me traumatic flashbacks to song-fics on fanfiction.net. This beautiful moment is ruined when Grace is attacked by Shelby and it’s up to big strong Sam to save her. Actually, Grace’s dad gets the first with a shotgun – smart man – and Sam comes close to wolfing out a little. In the hospital, Grace’s mum voices concern about Sam’s mental wellbeing after Grace told her about his messed up family life, but Grace tells her to mind her own business and she backs off quickly. Back in the real world of responsibilities and school, Olivia is absent and this is strange but not strange enough to warrant Grace actually giving a damn because she’s just found a Rilke translation Sam wrote for her and it’s oh so romantic! Another slightly more important reality check turns up when Isabel keeps pressing Grace for information on her brother. This information only matters to Grace because it relates to Sam, although there are hints that Olivia also knows about the problem but that doesn’t really take precedent here. Grace and Sam decide to talk to Olivia whilst making quiche. Yes, really. This short cooking scene serves no purpose other than making Grace seem even more like a stereotype. During the wolf discussion with Jack we get a half arsed explanation as to why the wolves don’t just move somewhere warm; apparently the warmer the climate the less gradual the change and a simple bout of cold air from an air conditioning unit would turn them. Did Stiefvater put any effort into her mythos at all? It’s one of those things that sounds like a good idea at first but when you think about it for longer than 10 seconds you suddenly realise it’s stupid. Back at school Olivia’s back and not only does she know about Jack and the wolves, she’s been helping Jack by bringing him food and clothing. Grace is understandably betrayed...no, wait, that makes no sense. Why should she have the right to feel betrayed, just because Olivia didn’t believe her the first time they had this conversation about the wolves? This isn’t the first time Grace has shown herself to be incredibly self absorbed and egotistical but it’s the first time I actually groaned out loud. And I’ve still got a quarter of this book to go! This thing should not be as long and as boring as it is. Grace and Sam’s dates certainly shouldn’t be this boring. There’s a small part of me that wants to give the author credit for actually having the couple spend time together to get to know each other but then I remember that they don’t actually talk about anything beyond their love, his crappy songs, his wolfing out and the weather. I did a double take when I read the part where Sam tells a waitress serving them on their date that they’ve been dating for 6 years and it was “love at first sight.” That, or 11 year old Grace really wanted a puppy. Grace also laments about how “utterly alone...lost without Sam’s touch and scent to anchor me” she feels when she leaves him briefly to go start up the car. Co-dependency issues are romantic!
Back at the parent-less house, Sam is trying to control the animal inside. Translation – he wants some sex! Grace is in full Bella mode here because she is dying to get some action but the wonderful gentleman Sam doesn’t want to do anything she’ll regret. So they get it on in a fade to black moment. I guess that’s one way to keep your core temperature up, wolf boy. In the morning, pillow talk is ruined by a phone call from Beck to tell Sam one of the fellow wolves, Paul, has been injured and the culprit was most likely another wolf. Beck wants to meet Grace and vice versa but Sam is adamantly against it without telling Grace exactly why. You’d think that your wolf father figure bring a psychotic madman turning kids into wolves against their will would be an important bit of information to share. Later on, Sam overhears Isabel talking to Jack, who is a first class jerk, but hints that he may have found a cure in Grace, the only person to have been bitten by wolves yet not change into one. Sam warns him to stay away from her and a scuffle happens, leaving Jack able to pick up Grace and get some interrogating done. Using a skill she’s perfected throughout the course of this book, Grace lies, saying Beck has a cure and they need to go to his place to get it. At Beck’s house, Jack fursplodes and Beck is left to subdue him but now they have no idea of knowing where Sam is. Sam calls them to tell him where he is – conveniently, he’s in a shed on the Culpeper’s property – and now it’s a rescue mission involving calling up Isabel and getting her to do all the legwork, which she is not happy about.
When Grace goes to see Sam, they speculate about cures and why Grace didn’t turn into a wolf after she was bitten; their big theory is that extreme body heat may kill off the wolf virus, like the meningitis virus. I shouldn’t have laughed at that bit but I am only human. Driving back home, Grace hits a deer and the truck is ruined, leaving the engine off and the cold rushing in. They call Beck for help and there’s a supposedly touching moment between Sam and Beck where Sam apologises for running out on Beck and Beck admits that the new wolf recruits volunteered for the job so that pointless plot point is taken care of. There are more confessions of love between Grace and Sam and then he’s off into the furry wild, leaving Grace to enter a semi-catatonic state of silent mourning, self imposed isolation and guitar smashing. Why do these authors think its okay for a girl to just give up on life because her boyfriend’s not there anymore? Aren’t these writers all married with kids? She’s snapped out of this within a short chapter (which is such a relief, it was torturous in New Moon when it went on for about a third of the book) when Olivia calls to tell her she had actually been bitten by Jack and now she’s changing. Grace gets her all war and snug before Isabel calls, telling her she has some fresh meningitis infected blood ready and waiting. Because as you all know, teenage girls are well versed in drawing blood. Over at not evil and therefore ridding this book of any sort of antagonist Beck’s house, Beck tells Grace about why he turned Sam into a wolf. Long story short, he’s a dick who thought he could do a better job of raising a puppy than Sam’s parents of raising a child therefore completely ruining his life. Bang up job you did there, Beck. I can see why we’re supposed to sympathise with you. The happy wolf group, now including Sam still in animal form, head off to the clinic to get on with the infecting, but Olivia chickens out and decides she’d rather wolf out for the summer and let her parents think she’s gone missing than die. Sam manages to turn human just long enough for Grace to inject half of the blood into him before he changes back. Over a few days quickly summed up in a few lines, Isabel calls up to inform them the cure is most likely killing Jack – and nobody saw that one coming? – and kill him it does! Olivia also wolfs out and goes into the woods, leaving Isabel and Grace alone.
Christmas comes and goes and Grace misses her wolf. But look, what a surprise, Sam is alive! And human! And in clothes! They hug and then the book ends. There’s no explanation as to how long he’s been a human or why he decided to go out and find clothes before turning up for the big reunion – surely if it was such a shock and a miracle that he survived the cure that killed Jack then he would have just run up to her house as soon as he found out. It’s not as if she’s never seen him naked before. Y’ know what, I don’t care anymore, I’m just glad this book is over.
God, this book bored me. The description of it being Twilight for the werewolf crowd is pretty much right as both books have the same levels of mythology fail, character fail, relationship fail and plotting fail. Nothing happens and it takes a bloody long time for nothing to happen. There wasn’t a single character in the story that didn’t bore me to tears or annoy me like a bad itch, the lack of plot is something I should not be getting used to in this project but unfortunately am, the mythology was half arsed thought out at best, the lack of parental guidance bugged me to no end and the love element was just weird, especially since it was bestial on some level. I understand that some people enjoy reading about that sort of relationship that’s so all consuming that it defines the characters but this is for teenagers and it’s the 21st century, have we really not moved forward in the past 60 years? Love shouldn’t define you, you should define yourself. Unfortunately, Ms Stiefvater didn’t get that memo. The sequel “Linger” recently came out and is already a huge hit and it sounds as if the final book in the trilogy “Forever” will repeat this success. On top of this there’s a movie deal in the works for the book but I cannot understand the appeal of this book beyond its appeal for Twilight fans looking for more of the same. I also can’t see how she’s got enough plot for a trilogy when nothing happens in one 400+ page book. Then again, this hasn’t stopped most of the writers on the list.
Sparkle bingo checklist:
· Where the fuck is the plot? (I looked everywhere for it, even under the couch!)
· Personality free hero/heroine. (Grace has no personality beyond being a selfish bitch who occasionally cooks and Sam is such a wet flannel fantasy male figure complete with his emo guitar. It didn’t help that all I could think about was John Belushi in Animal House smashing up that guitar while wearing a toga. Sorry...)
· Purple prose. (It’s not quite Twilight painful but I’m saying yes here for two reasons. One, the awful songs and two, ‘leaking womb.’ Enough said.)
· Mythology fail. (It’s interesting for about 5 seconds then you realise Stiefvater had no idea where to take the idea and just thought up some half arsed ideas and explanations that make no sense or hold any water once you think about them.)
· Lack of real villain. (So who was the baddie here? Shelby? She barely gets mentioned and seldom appears. Beck? But he got the U-turn of goodness so it’s not him. Jack? He’s just a jerk going through a tough time. I guess plot lessens the squee.)
· Unlikeable/dull lead characters. (There wasn’t a single character in this book that didn’t bore or annoy me. That’s not a good thing!)
· Description fail. (LEAKING WOMB!)
· Stalking = love. (It’s totally okay to yearn for a freaking wolf all your adolescence because he’s also a human, not that you knew that but still, completely okay for him to watch you undress from your window while he’s wolfing out! Obsession is cool!)
· Complete lack of romantic development. (Wolf stalking is not love!)
· Other women = sluts/bitches. (No, they’re too boring for that.)
· Special snowflake! (Grace is the perfect woman for Sam, so perfect he has to write really bad love songs about her. never mind that she does nothing to warrant anybody treating her like a nice person because she clearly isn’t. She’s also the only person to have been bitten by a wolf but not change into one. How convenient.)
· Passing family/lack of parental interaction. (This bugged me so effing much. Yes, there are terrible parents out there but this trope is so over-used and never done the way it should be done that it just smelled of lazy writing on Stiefvater’s part. The very brief moment where Grace admits she misses having parents who care could have been an interesting moment but it was shoved aside in favour of Grace just wanting more Sam Fail, Ms Stiefvater.)
· Lack of real consequences. (I’m tempted to say no here because nothing happens in the course of this book but how convenient for the love-birds that the cure works on Sam but not Jack and Grace just doesn’t seem to care. It’s getting a yes here because of the Beck stuff.)
· Beauty = best thing ever! (Nah, wolfing is the best thing ever which is creepy but not quite the same thing.)
Sparkle Bingo rating = 12/14.
The next book in the Sparkle Project - "The Forest of Hands and Teeth" by Carrie Ryan. Some zombie action that's actually...*whisper*...not that bad.
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